LAKE CITY, Florida – Strong wind complicated firefighters' efforts to contain a massive wildfire along the Georgia-Florida line Monday, and officials warned that more residents might have to evacuate.
The wind was gusting up to 25 mph Monday morning. Scattered showers and thunderstorms were forecast later in the day, but the help from the rain could be offset by lightning sparking new fires.
About 570 Florida residents were already out of their homes between Interstate 10 and the Georgia line on Monday, and Columbia County schools were closed as a precaution. County spokesman Harvey Campbell said more evacuations might be ordered west of the fire in rural Columbia and Hamilton counties, where firefighters have struggled against the wind-whipped flames.
"We're telling people to think of it like it's a hurricane ... in terms of getting prescriptions, paperwork, clothing and ready to move if conditions warrant," Campbell said.
In Georgia, 15 to 20 homes north of the tiny city of Fargo remained evacuated Monday, and more residents in town were being told pack valuables and necessities in case they have to leave, and to place sprinklers atop their homes, officials said.
The wildfire was started by lightning more than a week ago and raced through the Okefenokee Swamp in southeast Georgia and into northern Florida. By Monday, it had burned 102,500 acres in Florida and 139,813 acres of swampland in Georgia — nearly 380 square miles in all.
The fire was 30 percent contained in Florida and the smoke was beginning to lift enough for firefighting aircraft to take off after being grounded all weekend because of low visibility.
Smoke from hundreds of fires in the two states has plagued drivers. About 75 miles of Interstates 10 and 75 in South Florida were expected to open only intermittently on Monday. The haze has traveled as far south as the Miami area, about 340 miles away.
Elsewhere, a blaze feeding on drought-stricken forest in northern Minnesota was only 20 percent contained Monday morning. The fire had burned a combined 93 square miles in Minnesota and Canada.
Dewey Hanson, a spokesman for the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center, said the area got a little moisture on Sunday from heavy mist and drizzle. The National Weather Service forecast a small chance of showers Monday night and Tuesday.
The fire closed about half of the 57-mile-long Gunflint Trail, a key route from Grand Marais into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness that is dotted with resorts and lake homes. Officials said the fire had destroyed 133 buildings, including 61 homes. They estimated the value of buildings lost at $3.7 million.
Off Southern California, cool weather Sunday helped firefighters on Santa Catalina Island maintain control of a blaze that had threatened the resort community of Avalon.
The 4,200-acre or 6.5-square-mile fire was 76 percent contained Sunday and was expected to be encircled by Tuesday evening. One home and six businesses burned but no one was seriously injured.