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Fast-burning wildfire destroys 14 homes in US state Georgia

A swift wildfire destroyed 14 houses in southeastern Georgia, where more than 1,000 people had been forced from their homes earlier in the week, officials said. No injuries were reported.

The blaze, which had burned about 40 square miles (100 square kilometers), or 25,000 acres (10,000 hectares), ignited Monday near Waycross when a tree fell on a power line, then raced through tinder-dry forest to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, one of the nation's best-preserved wetland areas, officials said.

Many of those evacuated from the area went to a shelter or moved in with relatives, officials said.

Classes at Waycross schools were canceled after buses were unable to run on some routes because of smoky conditions, and the private Okefenokee Swamp Park was evacuated and its animals moved to safety.

Another fire that broke out Tuesday out about 40 miles (65 kilometers) south of there, near Fargo, and had spread to 2,200 acres (890 hectares), or 3.4 square miles (8.8 square kilometers), by Wednesday afternoon, 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," said Eric Mosley, spokesman for the Georgia Forestry Commission. "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 (163,100-hectare) wildlife refuge is a haven for animals including alligators and wading birds.

The U.S. Interior Department, which manages the refuge, is bringing in a team that specializes in firefighting operations, Burkhart said.

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.

High winds also have made it difficult to control the fires, officials said.

A third fire broke out Tuesday evening and damaged a few hundred acres in Berrien County, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the Waycross blaze, but was "90 percent contained" by Wednesday night, Mosley said.

Firefighters also battled a 4-square-mile (10-square-kilometer) fire near Nahunta.

In Southern California, strong winds spread a fire from a tire warehouse to an adjacent hillside and damaged two homes near California State University, Los Angeles. More than 100 firefighters battled the blaze before it was put out, officials said.

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