Some evacuees go home but firefighters still busy

Published May 19, 2007

LAKE CITY - Residents of about 200 homes were able to return to their property Friday after a wildfire along the Georgia-Florida border had forced them to evacuate, authorities said.

Columbia County spokeswoman Paulette Lord said 541 homes remained evacuated Friday.

U.S. 441 from Interstate 10 to State Road 6 remained closed Friday, and authorities said Interstate 75 from Lake City to the Florida-Georgia state line and I-10 from Live Oak to Sanderson were subject to frequent closures.

Concerns about the wildfires prompted the cancellation of the Florida Folk Festival scheduled for next weekend. The three-day music and arts festival was to be held at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs.

"Inviting an additional 10, 000 people per day into a high-risk area would not only potentially endanger visitors and performers but put a strain on the community's emergency response system, as well as its natural resources, " Florida state park director Mike Bullock said in a news release.

Six homes have been destroyed by the fires - three in Collier County and three in Walton County. The fire also has destroyed portions of a boardwalk, two bridges and an observation tower at Okefenokee Swamp Park, said Martin Bell, the park's manager.

Ronda Sutphen, a fire prevention officer with the Florida Division of Forestry, said crews had 70 percent of the wildfire contained.

Firefighters also were working to control a 75-acre blaze in the Weeki Wachee preserve. The fire was not threatening any structures, and they planned to let it burn out on its own.