The Bugaboo Fire, located in Columbia County, has burned more than 250,000 acres in Florida and Georgia. As of Wednesday morning, the fire was one-and-a-half miles east of US 441. Photo: Rob Wolfe

At a time when most people are wondering what to pack for their summer vacation, many people in Florida are wondering what to pack if they are forced to evacuate their homes because of a wildfire. As of May 16, 2375 fires have charred 334,756 acres across the state since Jan. 1.

The largest fire currently burning in Florida started on Bugaboo Island in Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia on May 5 and is now located in Columbia County east of US 441. So far the fire has burned 140,352 acres in Georgia and 119,501 acres in Florida for a total of 259,853 acres.

Rain showers associated with tropical storm Andrea moved south through the area on Sunday, May 13, but little precipitation fell on Columbia County. The winds continue to move the fire closer to US 441, causing concern that the fire would jump the highway and the Suwannee River and move into Hamilton County. Yesterday morning, the fire was located one-and-half miles east of US 441.

Henry Land, Hamilton County Fire Coordinator, said the County has put together an initial strike team to deal with wildfires. They have made arrangements with several landowners to tap into their wells for a water supply to fight the fires. The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office has set up a Mobile Command Post manned by law enforcement officers in White Springs, in case the fire moves across the Suwannee River into the county.

Several small communities have been evacuated in Baker and Columbia counties. As the threat of damage to structures has decreased, people have been allowed to return to their homes.

According to Roger Ehlert, Emergency Management Director, the area along CR 135 from the White Springs city limits north to SR 6 may be the first to be evacuated if the fire continues moving toward the county. Mandatory evacuation orders will be given by phone, radio, local television, emergency alert system and door-to-door.

Anyone who has a special needs situation should contact Emergency Management at 792-6647 before any mandatory evacuations are ordered. Shelters will be opened when they are needed at the VFW building on SR 6 east of Jasper and at the Suwannee County Coliseum on CR 136 west of the roundabout in Live Oak. The Coliseum is a pet-friendly shelter.

Janell and Tom Warfel are prepared if the fire moves toward their home. They and several other family members live near the junction of SR 6 and CR 135 (Woodpecker Route) about four miles west of US 441. The Warfels have already packed everything they can into their cars and they are ready to go if the evacuation order comes.

“We packed things that couldn’t be replaced — home movies, and pictures of the babies, my dad and grandparents, and war memorabilia that belonged to my husband’s father,” Warfel said Wednesday morning. “The worst thing is not knowing where the fire actually is. We are just waiting for someone to come to the door and tell us what to do. “

When the Warfels arrived home after a baseball game Tuesday night, firefighters had the road blocked near their home.

“That was scary,” Warfel said. “There was a fire only a mile-and-a-half from our home.”

Jasper Assistant Fire Chief Allen Blanton said the fire was located on SE 50th Lane and burned about 11 acres. He said the fire was started by a lightening strike earlier in week and smoldered until last night when it broke out in flames. It was not associated with the Bugaboo Fire.

Thick smoke hung over Columbia, Baker, Hamilton and Suwannee counties in Florida, as well as over several counties in Georgia during the weekend and into the first of the week. According to the Weather Channel, smoke from wildfires in both states drifted as far as Mississippi on Monday.

Both I-10 and I-75, as well as several local roads, have been closed periodically as the smoke would thicken and then clear out again. Maj. Rick Carpenter, Florida Highway patrol, said there could continue to be frequent delays along both interstates and encouraged travelers to monitor the situation.

When the interstate closed, traffic was routed onto US 90, which is the main street through Lake City. Nancy Oliver, Hamilton County Tourism and Economic Development Executive Director, who lives in Lake City, said the situation was “very intense with a tremendous amount of ash and smoke.”

Oliver said every family should have an emergency plan.

“Decide who will take care of the children, elderly relatives and pets,” she said. “Have your medicines, important papers and other necessary items ready to go. If you are told to evacuate, you should do so quickly.”

As of Monday, more than 300 personnel are assigned to the fire with an additional 170 firefighters providing structural protection. Personnel have responded from 25 states. Crawler tractors have been plowing five to seven miles per day to enclose entire 35 to 45 mile perimeter of fire in Florida.

This Week's Circulars

Recommended for you