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Wildfires force people from their homes

Two wildfires forced more than 1,000 people from their homes in southeastern Georgia and threatened the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

Residents had been evacuated from homes in the Waycross area since Monday and were still out Wednesday afternoon, said Eric Mosley, spokesman for the Georgia Forestry Commission.

Classes at Waycross schools were canceled, and the private Okefenokee Swamp Park was evacuated and its animals moved to safety.

The larger blaze, which had burned about 40 square miles (104 square kilometers), or 25,000 acres (10,120 hectares), ignited Monday near Waycross when a tree fell on a power line, then raced through tinder-dry forest to the refuge, officials said.

Another fire broke out about 40 miles (65 kilometers) south of there, near Fargo, and had burned at least 700 acres (280 hectares) by Wednesday, officials said. The cause of that fire was unknown.

"Because they are around the Okefenokee, it's really hampered our ability to fight the fires," Mosley said. "There aren't many roads or trails into the Okefenokee and it's hard to get equipment in."

Jim Burkhart, a refuge ranger, said the larger fire had entered the refuge by Wednesday afternoon, but not the smaller one. The 403,000-acre (163,092-hectare) Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is a haven for animals including alligators and wading birds.

A drought has left the forests vulnerable to wildfires, and the swampy land can be too boggy to support firefighting equipment, such as bulldozers to create firebreaks, said Alan Dozier, the forestry commission's chief firefighter.

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