Firefighter rescues fawn from West Mims Fire; extreme conditions persist

With Georgia’s West Mims Fire now making continual headlines, photos of smoke plumes and falling ash are seemingly everywhere. That means this photo from a couple weeks ago is sure to make the rounds, too.

Published April 28 on InciWeb, the shot of a firefighter carrying a fawn to safety quickly got buried in a tide of photos showing the fire’s massive smoke plumes and stories about the front jumping containment lines. Ash fell on parts of downtown Jacksonville, Florida, over the weekend.

The West Mims Fire burns along Highway 94, near St. George, in this photo posted Monday on InciWeb.
The West Mims Fire burns along Highway 94, near St. George, in this photo posted Monday on InciWeb.

According to the latest updates, the West Mims Fire has burned more than 140,000 acres. Another 7,000 acres has burned by Monday afternoon, and flame lengths up to 150 feet were reported.

Tuesday’s outlook was anything but promising.

“The fire will be fuel-driven and plume-dominated, meaning that when tall columns develop, they could abruptly collapse, sending downburst winds in all directions. Two columns could also develop at the same time,” officials said. “All this extreme fire behavior will create very dangerous conditions for firefighters.”

Satellite time-lapse of West Mims Fire smoke

The new Goes-16 satellite that is still not fully operational captured stunning imagery of the smoke plume from the West Mims Fire blowing over Florida and the Atlantic Ocean.

And the view from the ground:

West Mims Fire in Georgia sends ash to Jacksonville, Florida

The sprawling West Mims Fire that has been burning since April, largely in a south Georgia swamp, broke containment lines on Saturday and sent ash falling as far away as downtown Jacksonville, Florida. 

The lightning-caused fire was reported on April 6 in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and has burned more than 135,000 acres. Crews on Saturday dealt with gusty winds and relative humidity levels around 18 percent, which drove the blaze past containment lines and fanned it farther east.

“The fire moved aggressively to the east and southeast against an enhanced air and ground attack today,” officials wrote in a Saturday night InciWeb update. 

The fire and a blanket of falling ash on Saturday unnerved some residents near downtown Jacksonville, the Florida Times-Union reported. 

Similar conditions were forecast for Sunday, and evacuation orders remained in place. Additional heavy air tankers were expected to arrive on Sunday from California and Montana to assist the approximately 535 personnel assigned to the incident.

The West Mims Fire remains just 12 percent contained. No injuries have been reported. Full containment isn’t expected until Nov. 1.

West Mims Fire burns in Florida and Georgia

map West Mims Fire
The West Mims Fire is burning on the border of Georgia and Florida. The red and yellow squares represent heat detected by a satellite, the most recent (red) was seen at 2:19 p.m. EDT April 10, 2017. (click to enlarge)

(Originally published at 5:20 p.m. EDT April 10, 2017.)

Since the West Mims Fire started from a lightning strike on April 6 it has burned about 3,800 acres, growing substantially on Sunday and Monday.

The fire is 16 miles west of St. George, Georgia at the southern end of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and on private land just north of Florida Highway 2 on both sides of the Georgia/Florida state line.

Most fires in the Refuge, which is a Wilderness Area, are allowed to burn with little interference from humans, but with it on private land outside the Refuge firefighters are taking action to stop the spread.

Personnel with the Georgia Forestry Commission and Florida Forest Service are working the fire along with federal firefighters from the Refuge.

Below is an excerpt from an April 9 press release, but with the rapid growth of the fire on the 9th and 10th, it appears that fire managers have stepped up their suppression activity since the reported April 8 meeting:

…A meeting was held the morning of April 8 to discuss strategy. Representatives were present from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Georgia Forestry Commission, U.S. Forest Service, Florida Forest Service, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and Baker County Emergency Management. Monitoring of the West Mims Fire will continue over the next 48 hours. Personnel with the Florida Forest Service at John M. Bethea State Forest will refresh fire lines on the southeast corner off Perimeter Road.

There will be a follow-up meeting on Friday, April 14 of the primary responders to re-evaluate the status of the wildfire and to discuss future strategy of attack.

west mims fire
An undated and uncaptioned photo posted on the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge Facebook page on April 9, 2017.

Five of the most active wildfires in the South

Above: Three fires were generating the smoke detected by a satellite on November 27: Rock Mountain, Camp Branch, and Pinnacle Mountain Fires.

The wildfire activity in the southern states has slowed a bit over the last few days. The day before Thanksgiving there were about 4,100 personnel assigned to fires in the area. By Saturday that number had decreased to 3,400.

The smoke generated by fires that has plagued residents for weeks has also diminished considerably. Today’s satellite photo, above, only shows three fires that are creating enough smoke to be seen from hundreds of miles overhead. These are the Rock Mountain (Georgia and North Carolina), Camp Branch (North Carolina), and Pinnacle Mountain Fires (South Carolina).

Just five fires in the Southern Geographic Area reported size increases on Saturday — a major change from recent weeks.

Rock Mountain Fire

The Rock Mountain Fire in Georgia and North Carolina grew by 2,578 acres in the last 48 hours and now has covered 20,647 acres, which is considered huge in this part of the country. It has spread to within 4 miles of Otto, NC and 4 miles of Dillard, GA. The fire was mapped Saturday by Colorado’s MultiMission Aircraft. Firefighters reported active surface spread in hardwood leaf litter in all directions, aspects and elevations on Saturday. Where it was not impacted by suppression it spread for half a mile. About 130 structures are threatened.

Camp Branch Fire

The 1,483-acre Camp Branch Fire is 9 miles west of Franklin, NC, an increase of 120 acres over the previous report. About 113 personnel are assigned to this fire which currently threatens 140 structures. On Saturday firefighters successfully conducted burnout operations on the northwest and southeast sides.

Pinnacle Mountain Fire

The Pinnacle Mountain Fire in Table Rock State Park added 217 acres Saturday to bring the total up to 9,147 acres. It is in northwest South Carolina 9 miles south of Brevard, North Carolina. The incident management team reports that 255 personnel are assigned and 1,133 structures are threatened. A burnout operation on Saturday brought the perimeter to the containment lines on the west and north sides of the fire.

map Rock Mountain, Camp Branch, and Pinnacle Mountain Fires
Map showing the perimeters of the Rock Mountain, Camp Branch, and Pinnacle Mountain Fires.

OTHER FIRES

Clear Creek Fire

The Clear Creek Fire is 7 miles northwest of Marion, NC. I has burned 2,986 acres, an increase of 363 acres. About 352 structures are reported to be threatened. The fire is staffed by 489 personnel.

Mount Pleasant Fire

The Mount Pleasant Fire, 9 miles west of Buena Vista, Virginia has blackened 11,200 acres, an increase of 200. High humidity Friday night aided suppression efforts, but that was followed by strong winds on Saturday. Area road and trail closures, including part of the Appalachian Trail, are in effect. The fire has burned across the Appalachian Trail between Road 507 and Cow Camp Gap. The increase in acreage was the result of a large burnout operation on Saturday.

For the latest articles at Wildfire Today about how smoke from the wildfires is affecting various locations in the South, check out the articles tagged “smoke”.

Wildfire smoke decreases in Southeastern U.S. on Sunday, increases on Monday

Above: Satellite photo from Sunday afternoon, November 20, showing plumes of smoke.  

The amount of smoke created by wildfires in the southeastern United States decreased on Sunday. In satellite photos from last week smoke could be seen that covered large portions of South Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina. However as you can see in the photo below, the smoke increased on Monday.

The amount and location of the smoke varies depending on the wind direction and the fire activity. It is difficult to predict more than a day in advance the quantity and location of smoke.

wildfire smoke map
Satellite photo from November 21 showing wildfire smoke. NASA

Below are maps predicting air quality information and the location of smoke for today, November 21.

Continue reading “Wildfire smoke decreases in Southeastern U.S. on Sunday, increases on Monday”