Georgia Firefighters Widen Breaks Protecting Small Town

Monday, April 23rd 2007, 4:50 pm

By: News On 6

WAYCROSS, Ga. (AP) _ Firefighters used bulldozers Monday to widen breaks that were protecting a small community from a wildfire that has blackened more than 87 square miles of forest in southeast Georgia.

The fire, started April 16 by a fallen power line that ignited tinder-dry trees near the sprawling Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, was about 45 percent contained after burning about 55,600 acres, officials said.

``It's not directly a threat at this time'' to homes and communities, said Byron Haire, a spokesman for the Georgia Forestry Commission.

It was about 10 miles southwest of Waycross and about five miles south of Manor, where firefighters were using bulldozers to broaden fire breaks from 6 feet wide to 20 feet.

Eighteen homes have been destroyed, officials said.

Flames spread into the Okefenokee Swamp last week and were burning Monday about 2,000 feet north of the refuge that places most of the swamp under federal protection.

Shawn Gillette, a refuge ranger, stressed that the swamp needs fire because it otherwise would eventually become overgrown and dry up.

``Fire in the swamp is actually a good thing,'' Gillette said. ``The overall wildlife populations will actually benefit from it.''

No more evacuations had been ordered since about 1,000 people near Waycross were forced to flee their homes last week. Authorities urged about 5,000 others to evacuate voluntarily because of possible health risks from smoke inhalation.

Ware County schools remained closed Monday because of concern about smoke reducing visibility on roads used by school buses. The schools have been closed since last Tuesday.

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