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Smoke from the Honey Prairie and Pains Bay fires Atlantic
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Smoke from the Honey Prairie and Pains Bay fires, Atlantic Ocean

May 15, 2011
Fires burning in southeastern Georgia and eastern North Carolina caught the eye of NASA's Aqua satellite on May 9 at 18:35 UTC (2:35 p.m. EDT). The image was captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA's Aqua satellite as it passed overhead on that same day. In the image, the fire areas are outlined in red.

A long plume of smoke (top of the image) from the Pains Bay fire in Dare County, NC extends south-southwest over the Atlantic Ocean. According to Inciweb, the fire was likely caused by lightning strikes in the wetlands located on the south side of U.S. Highway 264 just south of Stumpy Point, N.C. That would place the fire between Pains and Parched Corn Bays. The fire had grown to encompass over 15,000 acres by late on May 7 and crossed into the Dare County Range. The Pains Bay Fire is now a multi-jurisdictional fire, managed jointly by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the N.C. Forest Service.

Farther south, the Honey Prairie fire (bottom of image) continues to rage in the Okefenokee Swamp, southeastern Georgia. Thick smoke and ash continued to affect several counties in southeastern Georgia and northeastern Florida. Winds on May 9 when this image was captured had shifted to the southeast, blowing the thick smoke into northeastern Florida, including Jacksonville. According to Inciweb, the fire was burning in an inaccessible portion of the Okefenokee Swamp.

On May 9, Jacksonville.com news reported that the fire had already burned almost 72,000 acres and was less than 1.5 miles from Florida. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (USFWS) Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge web page reported that water levels in the Okefenokee Swamp are lower now than they were prior to the fires in 2007. As swamps dry out, normally submerged vegetation, organic debris and, in some area, soils rich in peat become exposed to air and become tinder-dry. This process increases the fuel load, which not only allows wildfires to ignite more easily, but also can make fire control more difficult.