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Rainfall fails to stop wildfire near Georgia-Florida line

FOLKSTON, Ga. (AP) — Rainfall from a recent storm failed to quench a vast wildfire in the Okefenokee Swamp on the Georgia-Florida line.

A line of thunderstorms crossing southeast Georgia dumped just 0.1 inches (2.5 millimeters) of rain Monday night on the fire in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. The fire has blackened more than 150 square miles (389 sq. kilometers) on public lands.

“It was just a very light amount — just sprinkles,” Susan Granbery, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Forestry Commission, said Tuesday. “We need 3 or more inches (76 millimeters) in one rain event to put it out.”

A lightning strike ignited the fire April 6 inside the refuge. And while the blaze has spread quickly during the past month, the vast majority of the charred acreage has been confined to the Okefenokee refuge in southeast Georgia and the neighboring Osceola National Forest and John M. Bethea State Forest in Florida.

The storm system and the high humidity that came with it helped slow the fire’s advance. But Granbery said that was likely to change Tuesday, with drier conditions and steady winds expected to push flames toward the southeast.

Crews were working to protect trees inside the Okefenokee refuge used for nesting by endangered red cockaded woodpeckers. Granbery said brush and other potential fuels were being cleared within a radius of 10 feet (3 meters) around those trees in hopes of keeping away any approaching flames.

Meanwhile, a new multi-agency command team trained to tackle more complex wildfires was preparing to take over later in the week. That could mean more manpower on the Okefenokee fire, where more than 460 firefighters and support personnel are currently assigned. Granbery said the incoming team typically works with 500 or more personnel.

Naturally occurring fire is needed periodically in the Okefenokee refuge to keep the swamp from becoming overgrown and eventually converting to uplands. Firefighters try to keep flames from spreading to private land and work to protect cabins, boardwalks and other structures within the refuge, but otherwise they tend to let the fire burn.

Commanders have estimated this one could burn until November.

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