Okefenokee Swamp flare up keeps firefighters busy - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Okefenokee Swamp flare up keeps firefighters busy

April 25, 2007

Ware County -- Firefighters believed to have the Ware County Wildfire 50 percent contained.  But an evening flare up in the Okefenokee Swamp area kept them busy for hours, trying to keep it from spreading to near-by private property.

Almost 7,000 of the 53,000 acre wild fire is in the Okefenokee Swamp. Firefighters believed to have that fire 50 percent contained as of last night. 

They evacuated about 70 homes in the area but they say none were damaged or destroyed.  Those homeowners were evacuated to the Middle School or with friends and family and are still not being allowed back to their homes.

But the Georgia Forestry Commission said the fire near the swamp flared back up yesterday evening and they had to initiate a back burn that would hopefully be sucked back into the fire and put it out.

They say they now have that under control but much of the Okefenokee Swamp and Wild life refuge is charred.

Everywhere this fire burns, firefighters and foresters are working to put it out as soon as possible.  But in the Okefenokee, it's a completely different story.

It's part of the cycle of life.  "Every 30, 40, 50 years it will come through and it sweeps out the excess organic materials." said  retired Okefenokee Educator Don Berryhill

And with the last large fire in this part of Georgia dating back to 1955, the Okefenokee is due for a good burn... and foresters won't do anything to stop it.

 "It does such things as deepen areas and give space for fish, alligators, and other wildlife.  It helps raise the PH level and makes the water less acidic which improves the condition for birds and fish."

In fact without fire, the swamp could dry up. "If it did not burn, it would continue to grow and fill in until eventually it became a forest," said Refuge Ranger Blaine Eckberg.

So foresters are just plowing breaks to protect the park's structures and monitor it to make sure it doesn't get out of control and spread beyond the swamp. "We will let it in the swamp and just try to prevent it from leaving the swamp and the refuge and harming private property."

They also say there are over one thousand species in the swamp.  They say it is inevitable that many of them will die in the fire, but most have adapted themselves to fire and burns and can get themselves out of harms way.

Some animals like the indigo snake and Sherman fox squirrel have adapted so well, that they depend on fire to stay alive.

meanwhile on the human side, America's Second Harvest Food Bank in Valdosta just dropped off over 9,000 pounds of food and water for firefighters, foresters, and volunteers.

And while donations are still coming in all over the state for them, the community is beginning to take up donations for the 18 families who lost their homes to the fire.

Those who lost their homes are overwhelming by the support they've gotten from all over.  They've been given food, water, and donations to help them through this time.

They say the road to recovery wouldn't be as easy without it and with the communities help, they hope to begin rebuilding soon. 

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