Plane drops fire retardant on Lake City
A tanker plane flying out of Lake City around noon Tuesday leaked flame retardant for five miles east of the Lake City Gateway Airport, according to a statement released after the Lake City Reporter’s press time by multiple state and federal agencies.
The aircraft had already made several runs when one of the bay doors wouldn’t open, preventing it from releasing the retardant. The chemical began leaking as the plane was returning to Lake City.
The West Mims Fire continued its steady growth on Tuesday, and officials are bracing for strong Sunday winds that could threaten to fuel it even more.
An Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge news release stated the fire is now 21,308 acres and still only 3 percent contained. It is in parts of Okefenokee, John M Bethea State Forest and Osceola National Forest in Baker County and South Georgia.
Doc Bloodworth, the Florida Forest Service public information officer based in Lake City, said the fire has not touched Columbia County, but has come closer to the northeast corner.
Bloodworth said the wind forecast is “reasonable” over the next few days, with a strong influx of shifting winds from the south and southwest expected on Sunday.
“We need to be prepared for Sunday,” he said.
The West Mims Fire has slowly expanded to the north and northeast so far, Bloodworth said on Monday. It could take three to four weeks to fully contain the fire.
The Okefenokee release on Tuesday stated 265 personnel are now assigned to the area, along with 36 tractor plows, 25 fire engines, six helicopters, five bulldozers and one ground crew.
Bloodworth said workers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Florida Forest Service and the Georgia Forestry Commission are now fighting the fire, which started on April 6 due to a lightning strike.
Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency last week, as more than 100 wildfires burned across Florida, with 23 consuming more than 100 acres.
As of Monday, the Associated Press reported that more than 126,000 acres have burned in wildfires across the Sunshine State since January.