Highway 84 through Long County was closed again Saturday, evidence that a massive wildfire that broke out Thursday had not been extinguished.
The property damage was still being assessed Saturday and the only reported injury was to a firefighter who suffered a broken foot, according to Ludowici/Long County Emergency Management Agency Director and Fire Chief Darrell Ballance.
Road blocks were up again at Airport Road in Liberty County for roughly two hours again Saturday morning. The chief said Saturday’s road closure was due to low visibility from fog and smoke, not because of additional flare ups.
By mid-afternoon, he estimated the fire was 90 percent contained. Ballance said officials estimate up to 4,000 acres had burned.
Into Saturday, firefighters were still putting out hot spots and on Friday, two helicopters were called in to drop water on the flames, according to L/LCFD Assistant Chief Richard Truman.
Authorities say the fire began Thursday afternoon in a wooded area near Elim Church Road and quickly spread to the thickly forested land off Highway 84, which public safety officials closed due to zero visibility.
The cause of the fire still is unknown.
“At this point it is believed to be from an unpermitted burn, because it was reported that no burn permits had been issued,” Ballance said Saturday. “It is still under investigation through the Georgia Forestry Commission.”
The fire jumped Highway 84 on Thursday evening and ignited land on the other side of the road. Residents in several neighborhoods, Coastal Manor Nursing Home and the Long Pre-Release Center were evacuated, officials said. All Long County schools were closed Friday and Long County High School was used to house evacuees. The assistant chief said evacuees in most areas have returned to their homes.
Ballance reported the prisoners were returned to the Pre-Release Center by 5:30 p.m. Friday. The residents of Coastal Manor were still being returned as of noon Saturday.
“There are seven confirmed structures that have been destroyed,” Ballance said. “However, four of the structures were deserted old buildings. Of the three that were occupied, one was in the Mills Pond area and one was off Baggs Circle Road.
Ballance was unsure of the exact location of the third occupied structure but said several homes have exterior damages and damage to items such as fencing.
“It’s been a miracle (that not more occupied homes burned),” Long County Commissioner Wallace Shaw said. “We were keying in on occupied homes.”
First responders are operating out of a command center set up at the Long County Recreation Center, Truman said.
Fire victims, who need help can call the First Baptist Church of Ludowici at 690-0918. Anyone who would like to drop off money, clothes, food or other supplies to help Long County residents who have been displaced can drop off donations at the Coastal Courier, 125 S. Main St., Hinesville.
“It is very important for citizens to know that a burn ban has been issued in the state of Georgia,” Ballance added.
Hinesville Fire Department Chief Lamar Cook said Thursday that fire departments from Liberty, Bryan, McIntosh and Brantley counties sent firefighters to help the Ludowici/Long County Fire Department. Fort Stewart’s forestry branch sent four personnel, two tractor/plows and one pickup to assist, Fort Stewart spokesman Kevin Larson said. Rangers from the Georgia Forestry Commission did much of the fighting.
In all, Ballance said as many as 270 firefighters, with as many as 23 vehicles from eight counties responded.
Courier staff members and correspondents Hollie Barnidge, Patty Leon, Lewis Levine and Mike Riddle contributed to this report.