Lighter Winds Push Large Wildfire Away from Waycross

WAYCROSS, Ga. (AP) - A large wildfire in southeast Georgia has burned more than 45-thousand acres, ten-thousand in the last 24 hours, and is less than half a mile from the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

A spokesman for the Georgia Forestry Commission, Eric Mosley, says the fire was still only 35 percent contained yesterday, though lighter winds out of the east are pushing it away from Waycross.

The city of more than 15-thousand people is just northeast of the massive blaze.

People in the smaller communities of Manor and Homerville, which are now in the fire's path, are asked to be alert and watch for the approaching fire.

Mosley says the low humidity remains a concern as well as any possible shifts in the wind's direction.

Mosley says that NO new evacuations have been requested after about one-thousand people were forced to evacuate earlier this week, and five-thousand more were urged to evacuate their homes voluntarily Saturday because of potential health hazards from heavy smoke blowing into Waycross.

The fire, which started Monday when a tree fell on a power line, has destroyed about 18 homes.

Fueled by gusty winds, fire consumed 70 square miles of forest Friday.

By Saturday afternoon, the large fire had also spread to within less than half a mile from the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, one of the nation's best-preserved wetland areas.

Refuge spokeswoman John Calabrese says the ecosystem there is
fire-dependent, so fire inside the refuge "wouldn't be such a bad thing" for plants and animals there, some of which are protected species.

Another, smaller fire is 5-point-5 miles away from the refuge after burning about 25-hundred acres near the town of Fargo in southeast Georgia. That fire is about 90 percent contained Saturday.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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