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WILDFIRE | Georgia-Florida border

Evacuations lifted around West Mims fire in Georgia

Staff Writers

Monday, May 15, 2017, 12:41 - Evacuation orders have been lifted for areas surrounding a wildfire in Georgia's Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, according to local media reports.

Over 152,000 acres, or almost a third of the refuge, has burned since the lighting-triggered fire began on April 6.

Smoke is seen during sunset as the West Mims fire burns in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia, U.S. in a photo released April 29, 2017. Fish and Wildlife Service/Mark Davis/Handout via REUTERS

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The refuge, which is popular with tourists, is home to black bears, alligators and sandhill cranes.

The fire was only 18 percent contained as of Monday (May 15) morning and more than 895 people were fighting the blaze, according to fire information website InciWeb. 

"Firefighters continued strengthening containment lines around the fire, patrolled for new starts, and worked to cool down hot spots," said InciWeb in an updated summery. "Helicopters used infrared scanners to check for new fires, which might have been sparked by yesterday’s lightning, but found none."

Local residents are helping identify specific areas where fires have spread out of the swamp in the past, so that efforts may be concentrated where needed. 

Over the weekend, ground crews took advantage of the light fire activity to mop up areas deeper into the burned area.

Shifting winds in recent weeks have helped spread the fire, Banton said, adding it could take until November before the blaze is fully contained.

A firefighter watches a helicopter above Georgia Highway 177 as the West Mims fire burns in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia, U.S. April 25, 2017. Fish and Wildlife Service/Mark Davis/Handout via REUTERS

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A ridge of high pressure will bring hot, dry air for the upcoming week. Forecasters expect high temperatures in the low-to-mid 90s and minimum humidity readings in the 20s through Friday. 

"Light easterly winds will blow throughout the week, potentially carrying fire and smoke west toward Fargo," caution officials. "That location was also hit by dozens of lightning strikes and may see new fires grow as conditions get hotter and drier."

The fire burned into Florida last month and may advance into that state again, officials said on Sunday (May 7).

While much of the wildlife refuge is marshland and swamp, parts of it are prairie and wooded land. 

The West Mims fire burns in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia, U.S. April 25, 2017. Fish and Wildlife Service/Michael Lusk/Handout via REUTERS

The short-term dryness has worsened in southern Georgia, with more widespread impacts being reported, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Two new areas of extreme drought were added in southern Georgia along the border with Florida in response to the worsening drought conditions.

Six years ago, a wildfire burned more than 300,000 acres of the 407,000-acre refuge, said Mark Davis, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which runs the refuge.

CLICK PLAY TO WATCH BELOW: Wildfire smoke seen from space

Files from Reuters, WFOX, InciWeb,

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