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S. Georgia wildfires have destroyed 55,600 acres

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    WAYCROSS, Ga. - Firefighters worked Monday to widen fire breaks protecting the small community of Manor from a wildfire that has burned about 55,600 acres over the past week in southeast Georgia.

The fire, which started April 16 when a downed power line ignited tinder-dry trees near the Okefenokee Swamp in Ware County, was about 45 percent contained, officials said.

On Monday, the fire was burning about 10 miles southwest of Waycross and about five miles south of Manor, where firefighters were using bulldozers to broaden fire breaks from 6 feet to 20 feet wide.

"It's not directly a threat at this time," said Byron Haire, a spokesman for the Georgia Forestry Commission.

No evacuations have been ordered since about 1,000 people near Waycross were forced to flee their homes last week. Another 5,000 people were urged to evacuate voluntarily because of possible health risks from smoke inhalation. Officials say 18 homes have been destroyed.

Ware County schools remained closed Monday because of concern that smoke-clouded roads were too treacherous for school buses. The schools have been closed since last Tuesday.

About 360 firefighters from Georgia and neighboring states were helping fight the blaze.

Southeast Georgia is extremely dry, with rainfall deficits of 6 to 8 inches for the year. The forecast for the Waycross area showed a possibility of isolated thunderstorms Thursday and Friday.

"We are really just praying for rain," said Eric Mosely, a spokesman for the Georgia Forestry Commission.

Wind shifts over weekend pushed smoke from the wildfire north through Atlanta to Chattanooga, Tenn., more than 350 miles away.

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