Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fargo Finds Blazes Good for Business

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fargo Finds Blazes Good for Business

Article excerpt

Byline: Gordon Jackson, Times-Union staff writer

FARGO -- Billows of smoke hung in the sky like clouds near Fargo yesterday, a sobering reminder of two wildfires burning on either side of nearby Stephen Foster State Park.

But residents of the town closest to the fires burning in the world-famous Okefenokee Swamp had a surprisingly positive attitude toward the blazes.

"Everybody's joyful," said Sarah Ellis, manager of the Quick Change convenience store. "I don't mind it. I sure don't."

Like many merchants in town, Ellis said the influx of firefighters is creating more business than tourists normally provide.

Ellis said her store's business has increased about 25 percent since the park closed Tuesday, mostly in sales of ice, bottled water and sports drinks.

"It's a big impact," Ellis said.

The town's two restaurants are also busy making box lunches and dinners for fire crews.

Barbara Sills, a waitress and cook at Sportsman Cafe, said business has increased about 300 percent since the state park closed. The restaurant, which is normally staffed by two employees, has seven workers putting in 15-hour days. Yesterday afternoon, workers were busy preparing 130 box dinners and another 30 firefighters were scheduled to eat dinner at the restaurant's buffet, Sills said.

"The longer it burns, the better the business," Sills said.

One fire north of the state park, near Bay Creek, has burned 7,800 acres. A fire near Number One Island, which burned 6,500 acres last month, re-ignited and 40 acres have caught fire in an area already burned west of the Folkston entrance to the refuge.

Reconnaissance helicopters mapping the largest fire, which started in the south-central region of the swamp near Blackjack Island, were unable to determine the size yesterday because of heavy smoke, said Jim Burkhart, a refuge ranger.

But the Blackjack Island fire had burned nearly 35,000 acres the last time it was mapped Wednesday.

Flames from the Blackjack fire were seen yesterday less than a quarter mile from the only road leading in or out of the small state park, 17 miles from Fargo. …

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