Origin: Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
Last week was the final test to see if there was any life remaining in the Honey Prairie Fire. Water levels have risen in the swamp with the Jones Island weather station receiving 1.39” of precipitation in January, 5.15” in February, and 6.41” in March. Even so, the Georgia Forestry Commission Fire danger ratings ranged from high to very high for the fire area throughout the last week. Data from the Jones Island weather station indicated that relative humidity reached a low of 16%. The average wind speed was 4 mph with the highest gust reaching 19 mph. These were prime conditions for the Honey Prairie Fire to flare up if it had any heat left. Fire Management Officer Mike Housh declared the Honey Prairie Fire out on April 16, 2012. The lightning ignited Honey Prairie Fire burned about 309,200 acres (483 square miles) since April 28, 2011.
Thousands of firefighters, refuge neighbors and businesses contributed to the safe suppression of this fire. At the peak of fire activity on June 27, 2011 the Honey Prairie Complex had grown to 283,673 acres and had 202 engines, 112, dozers, 20 water tenders, 12 helicopters, and 6 crews with a total of 1,458 personnel assigned. Over the duration of the fire, there were no fatalities or serious injuries. Firefighters did an excellent job containing the fire within the boundaries of the 402,000 acre Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Only 18,206 acres burned outside the refuge.
Refuge Manager Curt McCasland says that, “We are very appreciative of the cooperation we received to suppress the fire.” Cooperators included but were not limited to the Georgia Forestry Commission, Florida Forest Service, U.S. Forest Service, Greater Okefenokee Association of Landowners (GOAL), Rayonier, Superior Pine, Langdale, Toledo Manufacturing Company, Georgia Emergency Management Agency, Charlton, Ware and Clinch Counties, County Fire Departments, and the cities of Folkston, Fargo, Waycross and Homerville, Stephen C. Foster State Park, Okefenokee Adventures, and Okefenokee Swamp Park.
Recovery from the fire is underway. McCasland recently announced, “We are pursuing the rebuilding of the main boardwalk on Chesser Island. I am confident we can completely rebuild the boardwalk but we will be implementing changes that will ensure we can efficiently and safely protect the boardwalk from future fires. This includes the use of fire resistant pilings to minimize the cost to repair from future fire damage. The well near the entrance to the boardwalk will also be refurbished or a new well drilled and the boardwalk will be plumbed to provide sufficient water and pressure to irrigate around the boardwalk during fires.”
McCasland added, “Damage assessments for repairs to Owl's Roost Tower, Ridley's Island Trail boardwalks, the Cane Pole Trail overlook, the shelters at Big Water, and the massive canoe trail system clean-up have been submitted.”
An archive of all the Honey Prairie Fire updates and maps is available at www.fws.gov/okefenokee/HoneyPrairieArchive.htm.