JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A second wildfire broke out in Georgia in the Okefenokee Swamp, burning more than 100,000 acres, rivaling in just five days the vast record-setting fire that has scorched southeast Georgia for more than three weeks, firefighters said Thursday.
The rapidly growing fire, fed by fast-burning swamp grasses, was ignited Saturday by a lightning strike in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.
Georgia and Florida have been battling wildfires for weeks, with nearly 300 square miles charred as a drought has left the land tinder-dry.
Firefighters are aggressively fighting a blaze that started in Georgia but has crossed the Florida border.
About 570 homes in northern Columbia County were evacuated overnight. Heavy smoke blanketed the area and visibility along I-10 was about a quarter of mile.
So far, no homes have been lost and there have been no injuries.
A decision is expected to be made by 5 p.m. Friday whether residents in the tiny north Florida town of Taylor will be allowed to return home.
Smoke-filled air created a burning smell and a dusting of ashes that coated cars and buildings through much of Florida and southeastern Georgia. The haze over Florida forced the closure of several highways.
Health officials warned the elderly, small children and people with breathing problems to stay indoors, although some areas were not as smoky Thursday. No one has died in the fires and just one firefighter had minor injuries.
Authorities has been hoping the year's first named storm would bring rain. But the remnants of Subtropical Storm Andrea were not promising much rainfall relief — only up to an inch was expected.
Jim Harrell, a spokesman for the Florida Division of Forestry, said the situation hadn't changed throughout the day Thursday. But another official says there is concern about winds picking up and fanning the flames.
As of Friday, the number of active fires has dropped from 236 to 223, with about 140 square miles —- over 87,000 acres — burnt. Seven homes in the state were destroyed.
Other large fires are burning in Bradford and Collier County.
Meanwhile, the Council on American-Islamic Relations says Florida Muslims are offering special prayers for rains at mosques on their religion's day of rest.
In northern Minnesota, high wind fanned a fire around the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, prompting more evacuations.
Bill Paxton, a spokesman for the firefighting effort, said the fire was "challenging" the containment lines. "They're holding right now," he said. "We're having some difficulty holding them, but they're holding now."
The fire had burned more than 45 square miles and destroyed about 45 structures since it started Saturday. The shifting winds Thursday put another 100 buildings at risk, fire officials said.