The Latest: Refuge wildfire grows near Georgia-Florida line
Posted April 11
TAMPA, Fla. — The Latest on the wildfires in Florida (all times local):
Authorities say a wildfire sparked by lightning in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge has continued to spread, burning through more than 9 square miles (23 square kilometers) of swamp and forestland near the Georgia-Florida state line.
Susan Heisey, supervisory ranger for the south Georgia refuge, said Tuesday that more firefighters are being added to a team of more than 100 trying to contain the blaze to public land.
Heisey said the fire began in the southern portion of the Okefenokee refuge's vast 407,000 acres (16,400 hectares). She said it has now spread into the neighboring Osceola National Forest and John M. Bethea State Forest in Florida.
Heisey said the fire has been advancing westward, away from local communities. All camp sites and trails in the Okefenokee refuge remain open to visitors.
Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency because of the number of wildfires burning around Florida.
Scott issued the order Tuesday morning.
Officials say wildfires in Florida have already burned 250 percent more terrain in the first three months of 2017 than during the same period last year. There are more than 100 active wildfires across more than 20,000 acres (8,000 hectares) in Florida.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam says the state hasn't seen this active of a wildfire season since 2011.
Declaring a state of emergency allows Scott to deploy and use any firefighting forces or resources needed and to help distribute supplies and materials.
The Florida Forest Service says more than 100 active wildfires are burning across the state right now.
The Tampa Bay Times (http://bit.ly/2o18HLf) reports 25 of them are scorching more than 100 acres each.
Since February, wildfires have swept across 68,000 acres of the state. That amount is higher than the average acreage burned over the past five years.
The largest blaze right now is the one known as the Cowbell Fire in the Big Cypress National Preserve, which has spread to more than 8,000 acres about a mile north of Interstate 75.
A Hernando County brush fire apparently sparked by lightning on Saturday had widened to 1,100 acres by Monday.
The dry conditions mark sharp contrast to 2016, when the state was drenched by two hurricanes.