LAKE CITY, Fla. - Authorities briefly reopened two highways crossing north Florida into Georgia yesterday before dense wildfire smoke forced them to again halt traffic, while hundreds of Florida residents waited to return to their threatened homes.
Officials said the wildfire that had raced through the Okefenokee Swamp in southeast Georgia and into Florida had charred more than 233,700 acres - or about 365 square miles - since it was started by lightning a week ago.
Authorities reopened 90 miles of Interstates 75 and 10 for a couple of hours yesterday morning after wind helped push the heavy smoke away from the highways. But they were later forced to close 35 miles of I-75 from the Florida-Georgia state line to Lake City, Fla., as well as a 40-mile stretch of I-10 in Florida, from Live Oak to Sanderson.
A 15-mile stretch of I-75 from Valdosta, Ga., to the Florida state line remained open yesterday.
About 570 residents were not being allowed to return to 150 homes evacuated between I-10 and the Florida-Georgia state line.
The fire started May 5 in the middle of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. It took just six days to grow larger than another wildfire that has burned nearly 121,000 acres of Georgia forest and swampland over more than three weeks. The small fire was started by a tree falling on a power line.
Haze from the fires has traveled as far south as the Miami area, about 340 miles away.
Elsewhere, a blaze feeding on drought-stricken forest in northern Minnesota was only 15 percent contained as of yesterday.
The fire had closed about half of the 57-mile-long Gunflint Trail, a key route from Grand Marais into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness that is dotted with resorts and lake homes.
Officials said yesterday that the fire had destroyed 133 buildings, including 61 residences. They estimated the value of buildings lost at $3.7 million.
Off the coast of Southern California, continued cool weather yesterday helped firefighters on Santa Catalina Island maintain control of a blaze that had threatened the resort community of Avalon.
The 6.5-square-mile fire was 69 percent contained yesterday and was expected to be encircled by tomorrow evening, Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Scott Ross said.