Stronger winds expected along Florida-Georgia line as massive wildfire rages

(NBC News)
(NBC News)

LAKE CITY, Fla. (AP) - Hope in the form of rain turned into fear that stronger winds were on the way early Monday as firefighters faced another hard day battling a massive wildfire along the Georgia-Florida line.

The wildfire that raced through the Okefenokee Swamp in southeast Georgia and into Florida was started by lightning more than a week ago. By Sunday night, it had burned 102,500 acres in Florida and was 30 percent contained.

Winds in the area of the Florida fires were expected to be 15 mph with gusts up to 25 mph Monday. That was up from winds of 6-8 mph, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Nina Barrow.

Scattered rain showers hit the area of the fire on Sunday, but the extent of the rain's effect was not clear. Any rain, however, would have increased humidity and slowed the spread of the fire, Barrow said.

Off the coast of Southern California, continued cool weather Sunday helped firefighters on Santa Catalina Island maintain control of a blaze that had threatened the resort community of Avalon.

The 4,200-acre or 6.5-square-mile fire was 76 percent contained Sunday and was expected to be encircled by Tuesday evening. One home and six businesses burned Thursday but no one was seriously injured.

Elsewhere, a blaze feeding on drought-stricken forest in northern Minnesota was only 15 percent contained as of Sunday. The fire had burned a combined 93 square miles in Minnesota and Canada. Meteorologists said there was a 60 percent chance of thunderstorms Sunday night. The storms weren't expected to bring enough rain to counterbalance the danger from high winds and lightning.

The fire had closed about half of the 57-mile-long Gunflint Trail, a key route from Grand Marais into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness that is dotted with resorts and lake homes.

A fire jumped a defense line designed to keep it away from 20 or so homes on Loon Lake on Sunday, and helicopters dumped water on the flames to contain it. By Sunday evening, fire officials said, the lines were holding and there had been no new losses of buildings.

Officials said the fire had destroyed 133 buildings, including 61 residences. They estimated the value of buildings lost at $3.7 million.

Georgia officials on Sunday also were working a new area of flames in the northern part of the state. The fire covered approximately 200 acres in Gilmer County and Murray County, according to Georgia Forestry Commission spokesman Devon Dartnell. It was believed to have been caused by lightning Saturday night, Dartnell said.

Fires and the smoke from them plagued area residents all weekend. Authorities closed approximately 75 miles of Interstate 75 and 10 on Saturday and were only able to reopen stretches periodically Sunday. Haze from the fires has traveled as far south as the Miami area, about 340 miles away.