Wildfire aid pours in, rain does not
Florida and Georgia residents are reaching out to firefighters with an outpouring of donations. Meanwhile, the region continues to lack rain, as meteorologists say is normal for this time of year.
As hundreds of volunteer and paid personnel battle the West Mims Fire, businesses, residents and churches donate meals, water, toiletries and money to aid efforts.
By 5 p.m. Monday, fire and smoke loomed near Highway 94 just 3 miles west of St. George.
Bryceville’s Roscoe Lynn and Linda Clemons unloaded paper products Monday afternoon at St. George Church of God as heavy smoke permeated the small community.
The couple has assisted firefighters with donations from the start of the fire April 6. It has already consumed more than 133,744 acres and was only 12 percent contained as of Tuesday.
“We just get such enjoyment helping others,” Clemons said.
Other donors continued to drop off water and additional items throughout the day and night.
Georgia resident Tommy Harris told the Record that church members from Folkston United Methodist Church delivered enough food to the St. George Church of God for at least 350 firefighters. Since Sunday, breakfast and lunch had also been provided at the St. George Church of God as volunteers and paid personnel from across the United States and multiple counties in Georgia have converged to assist.
Toombs County, Ga. volunteer Scotty Sanders stopped by the church to eat during a 48-hour shift. The construction business owner had planned to go home for a few days and return Friday to again battle the fire. He collected donated items that were stacked on nearby tables.
“I feel blessed,” he said. “It shows you people care.”
After seeing the fire’s effects on social media, Sanders chose to leave his home and business and donate his time.
“They’ve got lives and family just like I do, so that’s why I came out here,” Sanders said. “If it happened at my house or county, I’d want them to come help me. I just want to do the Lord’s work.”
St. George Church of God Pastor Grady Allbritton said the church would provide food and remain a donation drop-off site for as long as permitted. Packaged food and snacks, prepared meals, socks, bottled water, Gatorade, paper products and toiletries for firefighters are accepted. Call 912-843-2285 or 912-843-2450 before dropping off items. Brandies Ace Hardware in Callahan began accepting donated items Monday. Hilliard’s Hagan Ace Hardware and Hagan Ace Hardware in Glen St. Mary are also participating.
Hundreds of cases of water, numerous toiletries and other items have poured in, but the one key ingredient still missing is a wet forecast. Dry weather continues to persist in Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia.
Thunderstorms may arrive Saturday, according to Matt Zibura, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jacksonville.
“We only have a shot of rain in the next seven days after that,” he said.
Average temperatures in this region at this time of year are typically in the high 80s during the day and the low 60s at night.
“Usually it’s fairly dry in April and May,” Zibura said. “The rainfall picks up in June when we get daily sea breeze thunderstorms.”
Fire officials have said the West Mims Fire could continue to burn through November without any major precipitation.
The fire forced the closure of St. George Elementary School, with classes suspended through Friday as a mandatory evacuation was initiated in the community Saturday.
St. George residents who attend Bethune Middle and Charlton County High school were excused from school, as bus transportation was not provided south of Ruth Perry Road, according to a Charlton County Board of Education press release Monday.
Superintendent Dr. John D. Lairsey said he does not plan to have the children make up the missed days. Classes are scheduled to resume Monday. Official updates from the Charlton County school system are on the district website at www.charlton.k12.ga.us.
The SGE campus was utilized as a staging area as heavy trucks parked alongside Monday. The Camden Recreation Center opened its doors as a shelter for evacuees. The site is located at 1050 Wildcat Lane in Kingsland, Ga.
Firefighters from the Southern Area Red Team issued an update Monday evening, informing residents that the fire had crossed Highway 94 just east of Blitch Road late that night.
“The initial breach was narrow. With daylight, the heat from (Sunday’s) activity created the perfect launching pad for early fire advances ahead of northwest winds. By late (Monday) afternoon, the fire had consumed an additional 7,000 acres. The estimated contour of the fire along and south of Highway 94 is a bulge about (5.5) miles long and (2 to 2.5-miles deep). At times, the fire was moving with two heads causing some observers to think there were two different fires. It burned with such intensity that it produced 100 to 150-foot flame lengths and crossed the railroad tracks, but will not likely hold on that perimeter,” according to the online update.
A DC-10 equipped with a retardant delivery system to extinguish flames arrived Tuesday from Phoenix via Chattanooga, Tenn.
Several residents posted videos and photos of the fire as it raged, burning trees and debris in its path. The Nassau Board of County Commissioners issued a burn ban in Nassau County through May 15. Burn bans have also been issued in Baker and Clay counties in Florida. Charlton, Camden and surrounding counties in Georgia affected by the fire are also under a burn ban.