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Wildfires force Atkinson County schools to close
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    WAYCROSS - All schools in Atkinson County were closed Tuesday as a smaller wildfire about 20 miles west of the massive Ware County blaze grew to 4,200 acres.

Firefighters already straining to contain the main fire, which has burned 87,000 acres of southeast Georgia forest and swampland, were struggling to contain the neighboring one, officials said.

About eight homes were evacuated. Because it was burning in a peat bog more than a dozen feet deep, it was extremely hot and difficult to fight. Its cause was under investigation, but arson was not suspected.

State routes were open for vehicle travel Tuesday, a state Department of Transportation spokeswoman said.

Despite the ongoing challenges of extreme drought conditions, no rain in the forecast and shifting winds, however, firefighters were making good progress and strengthening the lines around the larger blaze.

"Things looked good with the big fire yesterday," said Georgia Forestry Commission spokesman Byron Haire.

He said that most of the new acres burned were inside the Okefenokee Swamp, an ecological environment that actually benefits from fires.

More than 830 firefighters from throughout Georgia and other states had the fire about 70 percent contained Tuesday morning. Gov. Sonny Perdue was planning to tour the affected area Tuesday afternoon.

On Monday, the Georgia Forestry Commission decided at least three of the smaller spot fires burning in Ware and Charlton counties were suspicious enough to warrant further investigation, said Eric Mosley, a forestry spokesman.

Officials are certain arson did not cause the main fire that has burned more than 125 square miles of forest and swampland over the past two weeks, Mosley said. That fire started when a tree fell across live power lines April 16. Officials say it has destroyed 22 homes.

But Mosley said the Forestry Commission suspects at least three fires may have been set by arsonists. One of them ignited last week behind the firefighters' command post on U.S. 1 near the Okefenokee Swamp Park.


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