Atkinson fire demands attention -, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Atkinson fire demands attention

May 1, 2007

Atkinson County --  The Atkinson County wildfire has grown to five thousand acres, and is only 35 percent contained.  Firefighters are struggling to keep that blaze inside the peat bog where it continues to burn. The fire is burning more than a dozen feet deep, making it extremely hot and difficult to fight.

Smoke moving into Coffee County resulted in evening classes canceled tonight at South Georgia College, and East Central Tech, both in Douglas. Firefighters are already stretched thin battling the Okefenokee fire that has scorched 87,000 acres of forest and swampland.

Today that fire sent thick smoke into several surrounding counties making visibility on state highways poor. None of the state routes are closed but several local streets and dirt roads are closed because of visibility concerns. The fire caused evacuations for half of Kirkland.

Oncoming headlights were barely visible through the thick smoke on Highway 82 in Willacoochee. Closer to Kirkland, fire fighters were ready to protect structures if the fire emerged from the peat bog.

Atkinson County EMA Director Dave Moore said, "It's burning over and it's burning down and burning out and as it burns out the trees are falling over and spreading fire."

Kirkland residents on the south side of 82 evacuated Monday night, residents on the north side fear they may be next.

"They came around about yesterday afternoon about 7:30 and asked us to be ready to evacuate and people on the other side of 82 to go ahead and evacuate." said Kirkland resident Thelma Darley.

The smoke stretches in all directions, Thelma's son quickly ran into on his way from South Carolina. "When he got to Soperton, Georgia he met the smoke from this fire," Darley said.

Winds have also been troublesome. Dave1 "Mother nature has not been kind to us, she'll blow the wind north one minute, south the next minute, west one minute, and east one minute.

While the fire continue to burn in the bog, the forestry commission is preparing nearby forests.

"We're taking crawler tractors and we're going in between the trees and we're plowing the fuel up in between the trees to try and knock the fuel load down so when the fire comes out of the swamp that hopefully it will not continue to spread," said Atkinson County Ranger Jamie Smith.

There's no telling when this smoke event could end, causing more inconveniences for neighbors and everyone passing through.

South Georgia College in Coffee County has canceled classes because of the smoke for today and tomorrow. Yesterday an explosion with the fire injured a Ray City Volunteer fire fighter. Today he's okay and resting at home, but it's caused fire fighters to back off and just worry about structure protection.