Fire spreads, Waycross appears safe - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Fire spreads, Waycross appears safe

April 20, 2007


Ware County -- Firefighters are doing everything they can to keep the massive blaze from spreading. The gusty winds we've had today haven't helped, but firefighters anticipated any spreading of the fire to be away from the city of Waycross. 

The blaze is now covering more that 45 square miles. Firefighters are counting on higher humidity to help them stop the fire from spreading.

Eighteen houses have been destroyed and about one-thousand people have been forced to flee their homes.  Another five-thousand -- including many senior citizens -- have been asked to leave because of heavy smoke blowing into parts of Waycross, endangering those with respiratory problems.

Because of the winds, more evacuations were ordered near Maynor.  Friday's effort is all about containment.  The Forestry Commissions goal today is to keep strengthening those breaks they've made to keep this fire from growing any further.

Dangerous winds, whipping at 20 miles per hour only made it that much harder to knock down the fire today.  From the air you can see the front line burning 10 miles south of Waycross and crowning through the tops of trees.

 "We're going to try and contain the fire and try and squeeze it as best we can down to its smallest size," says Eric Mosley of the GA Forestry Commission.

In a day the fire has grown, it's now 14 miles long and four and a half miles wide.  If they can keep it contained, they can get more help from the air.

 "The smaller we can get it, the easier it will be to go in with helicopters and with planes to actually put the fire out with water," says Eric Mosley.

The work also continues to strengthen the fire breaks.  Fire fighters have literally built another I-285 through the woods.

 "We're going to strengthen those lines, we basically do not want to go back and put out fire that we've already put out," Mosley says.

Humidity levels dropped throughout the day, giving the fire a better chance to burn. "We're hoping these lines will hold, we've strengthened the lines quite a bit.

While it's been hard for homeowners to sit back and not know what's going on the County made another plea for homeowners to keep to the evacuation.

 "When You've got a 20 mile per hour wind blowing the flames through the trees, it can become a very dangerous situation, very quickly," said Ware County PIO James Grinn.

The helicopter can carry two thousand gallons of water in their buckets.  They're getting that water from any place they can, local ponds or lakes in the area and they're continuously picking up water and dumping it. 

Several fires continue to burn in Ware County, Brantley County and outside of Fargo.

  From the air this afternoon we got our first look at a Ware County school, surrounded by flames, but saved by fire fighters.

The entire wooded area around Ruskin Elementary School on Valdosta Highway is burned.  Fire fighters were able to surround the school and protect it from flames that came dangerously close, causing heavy smoke damage the school.  County officials say it could take a week to air the school out.

The Georgia Emergency Management Agency has put out the call for prepared food donations, in large quantities.  The also need coffee in gallon quantities, along with paper products including plates and utensils.  They're also calling for portable foods.

 "The energy drinks, the energy bars, portable foods and we're getting local, great support for the meals that we need," says Scott Sherman of GEMA.

Firefighters also need personal hygiene products that you may not think of like eye wash and Chap Stick.  Items can be dropped off at the Ware County High School Staging area.

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