A wildfire in the Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Jackson County now covers just over 4,400 acres in Mississippi and Alabama. MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports the fire was 50 percent contained as of Monday evening.
Monday's storms brought welcome rain, but tornado watches and high winds also meant firefighters couldn’t do burn-out operations to stop encroaching flames. Candice Stevenson is with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
"The only area that increased was on the Alabama side and there was a good bit of activity there today with firefighters trying to protect the Grand Bay residents," she says.
The fire grew by about 200 acres in Alabama on Monday. In Mississippi, about 12 structures have been evacuated, including some fish camps and RVs, one business and a research office for the state Department of Marine Resources. Stevenson says the first step this morning will be a reconnaissance flight to see the current size, and look for hot spots and new fires.
"The rest of the day is going to be spent on mop-up, monitoring and cleaning debris off the roads so we can open the roads back up," she says.
There are 67 Fish and Wildlife personnel working on the fire. There are also state and local departments helping battle the blaze, including the Forts Lake/Franklin Creek Volunteer Fire Department, which is about 4 miles north of the refuge. Fire Chief Douglas Winters has been a firefighter at the department for 30 years. He says the speed and direction of the wind caused this fire rapidly.
“This is a very large fire, this particular incident," he says, "and again weather conditions affected a whole lot of that, how the fire developed and the size it became."
The Fish & Wildlife Service says the fire was human caused but still under investigation. It estimates the fire will be contained by Friday.