Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Swamp's Firefighters Go Skyward; High and Dry Billy's Island Now a Focal Point for Preventing Spread of 105,000-Acre Blaze

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Swamp's Firefighters Go Skyward; High and Dry Billy's Island Now a Focal Point for Preventing Spread of 105,000-Acre Blaze

Article excerpt

Byline: Terry Dickson

The effort to contain the Honey Prairie Fire in the Okefenokee Swamp has turned into an aerial battle.

Five helicopters and airplane tankers were dumping water onto the northern edge of the 104,936-acre fire in hopes of preventing its spread to Billy's Island, one of the highest and driest areas in the swamp where it could race north, Georgia Forestry Commission spokesman Byron Haire said.

Officials directing operations had decided to let the fire burn inside the swamp and contain it once it reached the boundaries of the 430,000-acre refuge.

But Friday turned out to be a day when the fire taxed that strategy, riding southerly winds into places officials didn't want it to go.

The incident response team used helicopters to douse the leading edge of the fire to prevent it from going around or jumping the Suwannee Canal and areas of open water, Haire said.

But the fire jumped the Suwannee Canal, and Thursday night a spot fire developed on the southern end of Billy's Island, he said.

Firefighters were using airdrops in an effort to cool both areas late Friday.

'IT COULD BE LIKE '07'

The airdrops had doused the fire north of Suwannee Canal pretty well, but it was too early to assess the impact, Haire said.

Much of the rest of the fire was still a half-mile short of the canal, he said.

"There's some concern,'' Haire said, with the fire burning across the length of Billy's Island.

"It just gets into more swamp and continues to spread,'' he said. "It could be like '07 when it keeps going and eventually threatens the perimeter again."

Billy's Island is also less than a mile from Stephen Foster State Park and parallels Georgia 177, a road to the west that serves as the access to the park. Fire engines, tractor plows and a sprinkler system are all in place to protect the cabins, picnic shelters and other structures at the park should the fire reach The Pocket, a curving section of high ground were Georgia 177 is located. …

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