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Nearly 400 wildfires burning in lightning-hammered Florida

By Vivian Kuo, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "This is definitely above the average," a wildfire mitigation official says
  • Only a handful of the fires threaten buildings or roadways, he says
  • Just over the state line, a fire has burned 192,000 acres in Okefenokee Swamp

(CNN) -- As many as 30 to 40 new wildfires have been breaking out daily in Florida amid persistent dry conditions, fire officials said Wednesday.

At least 384 wildfires are burning across the state, scarring nearly 114,000 acres, the Florida Division of Forestry said.

Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Monday, citing the ongoing danger of wildfires and drought conditions.

"This is definitely above the average on a yearly basis," wildfire mitigation coordinator Gerry LaCavera said. "This is actually more than we see in a typical year, but the fact that it's come from the last 25 to 30 days -- we've just been absolutely hammered by all the lightning coming through."

LaCavera said the agency has a list of at least six fires that it is especially concerned about because they threaten buildings or major roadways.

"The thing that sets this list apart is that these are fires that have directly threatened or are threatening values," he said. "All of them have acreage that they have already burned, with the potential to burn more, but these are in areas that have homes or infrastructure."

The state's firefighters are being aided by federal partners and personnel from Virginia and Kentucky, LaCavera said.

Separately, firefighters battling a large wildfire in Georgia's Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, which stretches into Florida, suffered a setback overnight when a spur off the main fire jumped fire lines. It scorched approximately 2,000 more acres before workers got a handle on the flames.

The U.S. Forest Service said no homes were threatened and that firefighters were working on getting containment lines around the new blaze.

The fire has burned more than 192,000 acres of the national refuge, with 49% of it under contained. As with the vast majority of the wildfires in Florida, it was sparked by lightning strikes combined with extremely dry conditions.

"There's no effective strategy to get out into the interior of the swamp and suppress the fire," said Georgia incident commander Troy Floyd. "We have to let it burn. We just suppress it on the outside as it comes up on the heel, or the higher ground."

Floyd compared the blaze to the 2007 fire that nearly engulfed the entire Okefenokee swamp.

"This is very similar. The conditions are actually hotter and drier for this time in 2011 than it was in 2007," he said. "What's burning now is what all grew back from 2007."

The fire could burn for months, Floyd said, unless a major weather event sweeps over the area.

"Typically hurricane season can give us a lot of rain in a given area. But we don't know when we're going to get it. It could be a couple weeks or a couple months, and by then the entire swamp could be consumed," he said. "You never wish for a hurricane, but we would like some tropical moisture."

CNN's Elwyn Lopez and Patrick Wright contributed to this report.

 
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