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Winds May Feed Georgia-Florida Wildfires

Hope in the form of rain turned into fear that stronger winds were on the way early Monday as firefighters faced another hard day battling a massive wildfire along the Georgia-Florida line.

The wildfire that raced through the Okefenokee Swamp in southeast Georgia and into Florida was started by lightning more than a week ago. By Sunday night, it had burned 102,500 acres (41,481 hectares) in Florida and was 30 percent contained.

Winds in the area of the Florida fires were expected to be 15 mph with gusts up to 25 mph Monday. That was up from winds of 6-8 mph, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Nina Barrow.

Scattered rain showers hit the area of the fire on Sunday, but the extent of the rain's effect was not clear. Any rain, however, would have increased humidity and slowed the spread of the fire, Barrow said.

So far about 150 homes have been evacuated along the Florida-Georgia line due to a massive wildfire, but more evacuations may be ordered. Columbia County spokesman Harvey Campbell says additional evacuations may be ordered west of the fire in rural Columbia and
Hamilton counties.

Schools have been closed in Columbia County as a precaution. The blaze has crept to nine miles of White Springs in Hamilton County.

Smoke continues to plague drivers in many parts of the state. About 75 miles of Interstates Ten in north Florida and 75 in South Florida are expected to open only intermittently today after being
closed much of the weekend.

Haze has traveled as far south as the Miami area, about 340 miles away.

Georgia officials on Sunday also were working a new area of flames in the northern part of the state. The fire covered approximately 200 acres, according to Georgia Forestry Commission spokesman Devon Dartnell. It was believed to have been caused by lightning Saturday night, Dartnell said.

Gunflint Trail Fire

Firefighters hope to keep gaining ground against a wildfire that's burned more than 93 square miles in northeastern Minnesota and southern Ontario.

Spokesman Dewey Hanson of the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center says the blaze is now 20 percent contained, after being only five percent contained most of last week.

Hanson says the area got a little moisture yesterday, in the form of heavy mist and drizzle. He says today's forecast is not too bad, with temperatures reaching 65 degrees, winds from the southeast at eight to 12 miles per hour and relative humidity of 40 percent.

Hanson says firefighters expect today to strengthen their lines against the fire, and more burnouts are planned.

About 950 firefighters are on the scene. No major injuries are reported.

The fire had closed about half of the Gunflint Trail, a key route from Grand Marais into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness that is dotted with resorts and lake homes.

A fire jumped a defense line designed to keep it away from 20 or so homes on Loon Lake on Sunday, and helicopters dumped water on the flames to contain it. By Sunday evening, fire officials said, the lines were holding and there had been no new losses of buildings.

Officials said the fire had destroyed 133 buildings, including 61 residences. They estimated the value of buildings lost at $3.7 million.

Firefighters have their hands full across northern Ontario dealing with a rash of forest fires, including a large fire southwest of Thunder Bay which jumped the border from Minnesota.

They are also tackling a large blaze just north of Thunder Bay. An aggressive attack by five waterbombers and four fire crews failed to stop its spread and the fire grew by yesterday afternoon

Catalina Island Fire

Off the coast of Southern California, continued cool weather Sunday helped firefighters on Santa Catalina Island maintain control of a blaze that had threatened the resort community of Avalon.

The 6.5-square-mile fire was 76 percent contained Sunday and was expected to be encircled by Tuesday evening. One home and six businesses burned Thursday but no one was seriously injured.

CBS Station KCLA News correspondent Christina Penza said the fire appears to have been sparked when contractors worked on radio antennas.

Residents returning to the island expressed deep gratitude to the firefighters who saved their homes.

"To have then hold off the fire as much as they did until the other crews could get there, the helicopters and hovercrafts to get there, was amazing," Kathy Thompson told Penza.

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