The Georgia Wildfires of 2007

Okefenokee Swamp, GA [Charlton County]

The above photo was taken on April 5, 2007, during a camping trip to Stephen C. Foster State Park near Fargo, GA. I was hoping to see more of the swamp but due to severe drought conditions, boat tours were limited, and the Trembling Earth Boardwalk led through dry woods instead of over swamp water.

On April 16, 2007, just 11 days after my visit, a tree fell on a power line in Waycross and started a fire which, due to drought conditions, low humidity and high winds quickly spread and entered the Okefenokee NWR four days later. There it combined with a wildfire that had started a week earlier inside the swamp. By April 30, the fire had consumed 80,000 acres (320 qkm), 20 % of which were in the refuge. By May 9, 116,000 acres (469 qkm) had been burned within the triangle formed by Waycross in the north, Fargo in the west and Folkston in the east. The next day, sub-tropical storm Andrea crossed over bringing with it more wind but unfortunately, very little rain. As a result, the fire spread to northern Florida. A separate fire started on the Okefenokee's Bugaboo Island on May 8; it spread extremely fast and soon combined with the Waycross fire. Eventually, these fires burned more than 600,000 acres (2,400 qkm) of the Okefenokee region in three months. Essentially all of the swamp burned, though the degrees of impact vary widely. During the time of these fires, smoke blanketed much of South Georgia and sometimes drifted as far north as Atlanta (300 miles) and as far south as Orlando (250 miles).

The scars of the massive wildfire of 2007 were still visible a year later on Chesser Island in the Okefenokee NWR, about 10 miles west of Folkston. Wildfires are a common and necessary occurence in the swamp but a chain of events led to the largest wildfire in the history of both Georgia and Florida, the largest wildfire to occur outside of Alaska, and the most expensive wildfire ever for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ($ 30 million).

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