Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Residents Warned Fire Could Shift

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Residents Warned Fire Could Shift

Article excerpt

Byline: Terry Dickson

FOLKSTON, GA. | The big West Mims Fire in the Okefenokee Swamp has grown past 22,600 acres and residents on the east side are being told shifting winds could push the flames their way, the incident response team said.

Since it was started by lightning two weeks ago, the fire had moved consistently west and north toward Fargo, but some of the 356 personnel assigned to fire are preparing structures and fire breaks to the east as the wind is expected to shift.

To prepare residents for the change in conditions, public meetings will be held at 6:30 p.m. Friday at St. George Elementary School auditorium, St. George, and 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Charlton County Annex auditorium,Folkston.

Structure protection has begun at the eastern entrance to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, and Clinch and Charlton County emergency officials are keeping the public and residents advised of fire conditions and telling them to prepare to evacuate quickly.

The historic Chesser Island homestead on Swamp Island Drive closed at 4 p.m. Thursday and a team of about 16 Texas A&M Forest Service firefighters and others directed by John Johanson of the Tonto National Forest in Arizona wrapped the 90-year-old house in reinforced foil.

Tom and Iva Chesser reared nine children on the property before they moved out in 1958 and sold the property to the wildlife refuge in the early 1970s.

Johanson said he had wrapped structures "numerous times" and said, "It's the equivalent of putting tin foil on a potato."

The foil will help keep blowing embers from inside and under the house where they could ignite the unpainted heartpine wood.

The drawback, he said, is that if an ember does get through a gap it could burn undetected.

The house was wrapped for huge fires in 2007 and 2011, however, and came through unscathed.

Johanson told refuge supervisory ranger Susan Heisey, "I've wrapped a bunch of stuff. Been real successful but you never know."

Given the historic nature of the house, firefighters used brads to tack the foil in place behind strips of wood rather than use staples. …

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