Wildfire in southern Georgia burns over 100,000 acres, forces evacuations

The fire was sparked by lightning in early April.

— -- A wildfire on the Georgia-Florida border that has burned more than 100,000 acres led to evacuations this weekend when the blaze threatened to jump from a national wildlife refuge onto private property.

The fire, which was sparked by lightning in early April in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, has scorched more than 118,000 acres, according to InciWeb, a government-run fire information site.

About 79 people have been evacuated from the unincorporated community of St. George in Georgia's Charlton County as wind gusts and dry conditions were raising the risk of the fire spreading.

A temporary shelter has been opened in the gymnasium at the Folkston Elementary School. County Administrator Shawn Boatright said it will stay open indefinitely.

"We're not sure what's going to happen right now, so it's open until further notice," he said.

He encouraged residents to bring whatever personal items they might need for an extended shelter stay.

The wildlife refuge said in a statement that "extremely dangerous burning conditions persist" and that 11,000 acres have been consumed by fire in just the past two days.

Some 535 personnel had been assigned to fight the fire, along with 10 helicopters, 55 fire engines, bulldozers and other equipment, the statement said. The fire is 12 percent contained.

The area, on the Georgia-Florida line, is also under a dense smoke advisory that is expected to impact visibility in the towns of St. George, Callahan, Ratliff and northern Duval County near the Jacksonville International Airport. Some road closures were in effect and the main entrance to the refuge was closed.

The blaze is one of a number of forest fires that have kept firefighters working long hours in parts of the Southeast this year.

In November 2016, deadly fires in Tennessee caused thousands of evacuations of people living near wooded areas and killed at least three.