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Georgia expands mandatory evacuations as fire moves into Florida

By Andrew V. Pestano
Georgia expands mandatory evacuations as fire moves into Florida
A wildfire in southern Georgia has led to the evacuation of several areas, including the city of St. George. The fire, which is also burning Florida's John M. Bethea State Forest, is expected to expand north. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

May 9 (UPI) -- Georgia officials expanded mandatory evacuations due to the Okefenokee wildfire that is now also burning Florida's John M. Bethea State Forest.

The Charlton County Emergency Management Agency on Monday expanded mandatory evacuations to include residents in the Georgia Bend, St. George, Canaday Loop and Moniac areas. Officials also shut down Georgia State Route 121 and Interstate 94.

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"We advise all residents in these areas to follow this evacuation order for your safety," the agency said in a statement.

The shelter for evacuated residents is at the Camden County Recreation Center in the city of Kingsland.

The National Wildfire Coordinating Group said the fire, called the West Mims Fire and started by lightning on April 6, at Georgia's Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge grew to 133,744 acres and is 12 percent contained as of late Monday.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Fire Management Division early Tuesday estimated the fire grew to more than 140,000 acres, though the number is not yet official.

The NWCG said the fire will likely continue to expand and move north through more of the Okefenokee forest.

Charlton County Schools said classes would resume at the Charlton County High School, Bethune Middle School and Folkston Elementary School on Tuesday, while St. George Elementary School will remain closed through the week.

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