Update: Okefenokee Swamp Fire Now 81,000 + Acres | Environment

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Update: Okefenokee Swamp Fire Now 81,000 + Acres
Environment, Weather
Update: Okefenokee Swamp Fire Now 81,000 + Acres

SLIDESHOW: OKEFENOKEE FIRE

FOLKSTON, Ga. -- A rapidly growing wildfire in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge has burned more than 81,000 acres as of Monday night and managed to escape the swamp's eastern boundary, where firefighters managed to contain the flames to a few acres on private land, officials said Monday.

First Coast News has obtained exclusive aerial pictures from above the Okefenokee Swamp. "It's the worst I've ever seen," said Phil Whitley, a videographer who shot the fire from 1,500 feet above the swamp this afternoon.

He said he also saw the massive fires along the First Coast in 1998, and this is much worse. "Miles and miles of individual fires" are what he saw.

Whitley said he had to stay well to the west just to avoid getting lost in the smoke, which is drifting over the First Coast.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the 430,000-acre Okefenokee refuge, said the fire has consumed 81,433 acres since a lightning strike sparked the blaze April 28.

The wildfire was contained inside the swamp until Sunday night, when flames jumped the fire control breaks 50 to 100 feet wide surrounding the Okefenokee and spread to private land at the Georgia-Florida state line, said Frank Sorrells, district ranger for the Georgia Forestry Commission. Sorrells said the fire burned about 18 acres outside the swamp.

"It did make a significant run to the east and actually moved out of the swamp," Sorrells said. "But we were able to contain it pretty quickly."

No communities were in immediate danger, Sorrells said, but tinder-dry conditions in the Okefenokee have helped the flames spread at rates as fast as 3 mph.

The Okefenokee needs periodic fire to keep the swamp from becoming overgrown and converting to uplands. The last major fire in the swamp came in 2007, when more than 500,000 acres burned in the Okefenokee refuge and surrounding communities.

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