Weeks of heavy rain that have drenched much of the Southeast have been a blessing at a wildlife refuge that straddles the Georgia-Florida state line. Officials at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge say it's enjoying a swamp water level about a foot higher than average and low fire anxiety.
Within the past three days, three rain gauges in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge had recorded rainfall totals between 3.75 inches and nearly 6 inches. On May 24, the swamp was at 118.68 feet above sea level at the refuge headquarters. Tuesday, it reached 119.14 feet with rain still falling.
The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge had dropped to near record lows because of prolonged drought, but National Weather Service maps showed that five or more inches of rain fell in some areas in and near the Okefenokee.
Forecasters are predicting more dangerous conditions for the spring wildfire season. Rains expected this month could improve conditions, but not enough to help already dry areas. New vegetation could add to the problem.
Georgia fire officials say, less than 100 fire personnel will be working the Okefenokee Swamp's Honey Praire Fire by this weekend. The officials say, they are "right-sizing" fire-fighting efforts based on ground conditions. At its worst, fire-figters and support staff numbered about 1,000.
Fire information officials say the Okefenokee Swamp's Honey Prairie Fire continues to grow. The joint information center for the team fighting the fire says it's now 286,698 acres, up about 3,000 acres in two days. John Nicholls, a fire information officer, said Wednesday a new team is taking over management of the fire.
A wildfire burning out of control in southeast Georgia a few miles west of Waycross has raced across nearly 8 square miles in less than a day, forcing some rural residents to evacuate. Jonathan Daniel, emergency management director for Ware County, said Thursday about 75 homes were evacuated overnight. He says residents of about 25 homes have been unable to return because the flames are still too close.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has rejected a proposal to transplant some Florida panthers to the Okefenokee Swamp on the Florida-Georgia border. The only current population of the big cats is in South Florida, and it numbers only 120 to 160 breeding animals.