Wildfire burns 250 acres, destroys home in southeast Georgia

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) - Crews worked Wednesday to contain a wildfire that destroyed a family's mobile home and several other buildings as it burned about 250 acres in a densely wooded area of rural southeast Georgia.

Firefighters had the blaze 80 percent contained Wednesday morning, said Wendy Burnett, spokeswoman for the Georgia Forestry Commission. It had charred less than half of a square mile after breaking out Tuesday afternoon in Brantley County, about 90 miles southeast of Savannah, where conditions have been unusually dry compared to a normal spring.

Fire crews equipped with bulldozers and a water buffalo, a large vehicle used to transport water to remote areas, were reinforcing fire breaks plowed around the perimeter of the fire Wednesday and using hoses to douse any smoldering hotspots to keep them from reigniting, Burnett said.

"They've done a tremendous job getting it under control," Burnett said. "We're going to be out there monitoring for the rest of the week or until fire officials are satisfied that it's completely out."

She credited volunteer and full-time firefighters from six local departments with saving 45 structures in the fire's path Tuesday while helicopters dropped buckets of water on the flames from the air.

The cause of the fire was still being investigated. Lee said initial reports indicated the wildfire may have started from a prescribed burn that got out of control.

"We understand a burn permit had been issued to a landowner to burn timberland," Lee said. "They had fire breaks and all, but it escaped them."

No one was injured, but 25 families had to be evacuated Tuesday. Red Cross volunteers were assisting one family whose mobile home was destroyed.

"It was actually in among a bunch of trees and we couldn't get back there with a truck to save it," said Michelle Lee, emergency management director for Brantley county.

Lee said seven other buildings also burned, including a couple of unoccupied mobile homes being used for storage and a garage where a resident worked repairing cars behind his home. Firefighters saved the man's home, Lee said, but couldn't spare the garage.

Georgia officials are bracing for a busy wildfire season as unseasonably dry weather covers most of the state. Much of central and southern Georgia, including Brantley County, is considered abnormally dry, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. And a large portion of northern Georgia is suffering from moderate to extreme drought.

"We're looking at a very active wildfire season," Burnett said.

Drought was blamed for wildfires that burned more than 40,000 acres, or 62 square miles, in north Georgia last fall. Southeast Georgia has seen fires grow much larger.

A blaze sparked in April 2011 burned more than 309,000 acres, or 480 square miles, mostly inside the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, until it was declared extinguished nearly a year later. In 2007, several fires in the same area charred more than 553,000 acres (860 square miles) in the swamp and neighboring communities in Georgia and northern Florida.