Camden assists with West Mims fire, declares burn ban

The American Red Cross established a shelter at the recreation center in Kingsland on Sunday for evacuees related to the West Mims fire, but only two people were staying there as of Wednesday morning. 

Glenda Barber, a local resident who has volunteered with the Red Cross for the last 25 years, said they will be ready if more of them do come. She was among a handful of volunteers assigned to the Camden Community Recreation Center at 1050 Wildcat Drive. A temporary shelter was initially set up Saturday at a Folkston school.

Rec center staff said they did not expect recreational programs and fitness classes to be affected by the shelter, which is located in the center’s gym and community room. 

All of Camden County’s fire departments have sent personnel to help fight the wildfire in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Also fighting the fire are personnel from Georgia Forestry Commission, Greater Okefenokee Association of Landowners, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida Forest Service and U.S. Forest Service.  

The mobile canteen from The Salvation Army Service Center in St. Marys also contributed to the effort by feeding volunteer firefighters at the fire. Director Charlene Sears said canteen volunteers have been back and forth from Charlton County this week.

High winds over the weekend fed the wildfire and it spread closer to the community of St. George, which is about 50 miles from Camden.

Charlton County Schools were closed Monday due to the advancing fire and all St. George area students have been excused this week.

The evacuation was expanded Monday to include Canaday Loop and Moniac residents. By Tuesday evening, the evacuation of the entire southern part of Charlton County was announced and Nassau County, Fla., located just across the St. Marys River from the fire, issued a pre-evacuation advisory.

Lightning is believed to have ignited the West Mims fire in early April, officials said. Conditions remain extremely dry in southeast Georgia and any live embers are likely to ignite combustible materials. 

County and city fire chiefs and officials, along with Georgia Forestry Commission, declared a countywide burn ban on Monday because the same conditions that created the West Mims fire also exist in Camden County.

A large wildfire off CMG Place at Harrietts Bluff on May 5 came dangerously close to homes in the area, but fire crews were able to extinguish the blaze without any structure damage. It was a reminder that even a hot engine or discarded cigarette can quickly spark up into a major fire incident when conditions are this dry. 

“Weather conditions are at an extreme with our current drought situation,” the release added.

Officials are urging citizens to be extra careful and do their part to prevent wildfires. 

“The biggest request to our community is to please respect the burn ban. Our crews and resources are stretched and very limited. Even the smallest of fires can trigger a disaster in the area. It will take all of us to ensure that we are kept safe,” stated a press release from Camden Fire Rescue on Monday. 

The department will make an announcement as soon as the ban is canceled, it added.

The release also said donations for firefighters can be dropped off at any Camden County fire station for distribution in Charlton County. Requested items include drinking water, Gatorade, snacks, paper towels, coolers, baby wipes, bug spray, bandanas, hand sanitizer and ice. 

Refuge officials that are coordinating the fire suppression operation advise area citizens to support their local fire departments, many of which are assisting with the fire, and local food banks that may need to help evacuees who have left the area because of the fire. They also suggested donating to the Okefenokee Wildlife League or the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. 

Shelter volunteers said they had received offers of help from the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and three local churches. For right now, Barber said they don’t need anything, just an end to the devastating wildfire in Charlton County. 

Tribune & Georgian

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