Officials say fire fight will cost $18 million

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WAYCROSS, Ga. - Georgia officials estimate it will cost $18 million to fight vast wildfires that have burned more than 135 square miles of forest and swampland in southeast Georgia, and Gov. Sonny Perdue promised Tuesday to continue seeking federal disaster money to help offset the cost.

A Georgia National Guard Blackhawk helicopter climbs through smoke as it lifts off with a water bucket from Waycross Ware County Airport. Georgia officials estimate it will cost $18 million to fight vast wildfires that have burned more than 135 square miles of forest and swampland in southeast Georgia.  Associated Press
Associated Press
A Georgia National Guard Blackhawk helicopter climbs through smoke as it lifts off with a water bucket from Waycross Ware County Airport. Georgia officials estimate it will cost $18 million to fight vast wildfires that have burned more than 135 square miles of forest and swampland in southeast Georgia.

After an update on the fires in Waycross, Mr. Perdue told reporters he's not sure yet how much of the cost will go to the state versus local governments in the affected areas.

"We do what it takes and we do the accounting later," Mr. Perdue said. "When you're fighting fire, it's not a time to balance your checkbook."

The largest wildfire recorded in Georgia has scorched 87,000 acres of drought-stricken forest and Okefenokee Swamp land since it ignited when a fallen tree struck live power lines April 16. The fire has destroyed 21 homes, but there have been no deaths or serious injuries.

Several smaller fires have broken out near the large blaze.

Mr. Perdue has already secured some disaster relief funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to offset the cost of battling the largest fire in Ware County, which more than 800 firefighters from across Georgia and neighboring states have been working to contain for more than two weeks. FEMA will also help pay for fighting a 1,300-acre fire in neighboring Brantley County.

Firefighters have contained about 64 percent of the Ware County fire.

ARSON PROBES


Gov. Sonny Perdue said the Georgia Forestry Commission is now certain that some of the smaller fires were set by arsonists. He gave few specifics, citing ongoing investigations.


Robert Farris, Georgia's acting forestry commissioner, said investigators are looking into six fires they consider suspicious - including one that broke out Saturday near the Georgia Forestry Commission office in Ware County that firefighters have used as a command post.


Mr. Farris said a team specializing in wildland arson investigations has arrived to begin looking for evidence.


- Associated Press


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