A massive fire that began Sunday night has killed at least 1,200 people in the Georgia desert, damaged more than 30,000 structures and left thousands without power.
Fire officials say the blaze started in the mountains north of Valdosta, and that it has now spread to parts of the southern part of the state, including Atlanta, Savannah and nearby Cobb counties.
It’s unclear how many people remain in the areas where the fire began.
The blaze began around 2 a.m. local time in the lowlands area of Georgia’s Upper Peninsula, which is known as the Black Belt.
It started to burn near a ranch, but then expanded to about a mile (1.5 km) to the north.
Firefighters from the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Agriculture (DNR) and the Georgia National Guard were called in.
Nathan Deal said on Twitter that “this is the most serious wildfire threat to Georgia in decades.”
The fires started on Sunday and have destroyed more than 20,000 residences, according to the DNR.
Officials say about 3,000 firefighters from Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Florida, Texas and Louisiana are helping in the effort to quell the blaze.
“We know that the fire is spreading in this area, and there is no place in Georgia or in the country where a fire could burn that fast and continue for a long time without a significant response,” said DNR Chief Tom Davis.
“This fire is going to be a problem for a very long time.”
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and Georgia National Guardsman James R. Anderson talk at a press conference in Valdosta on Saturday.
(Dana Puhl/AP) A total of 1,831 structures have been damaged or destroyed, according a DNR report.
Fire crews have been battling the blaze in some areas, but have so far not managed to extinguish the fires.
The fire burned more than 40,000 acres (17,000 hectares) and destroyed more homes than 10,000.
It also caused significant property damage, with some houses that burned and others that didn’t, causing more than $3.5 million in damage, according the D NR.
About 500 people were reported to be in critical condition and others were being treated for injuries.
Some residents have been evacuated from the affected areas and others are being kept in shelters, according on the Georgia Department of Emergency Management website.
“The fire was burning for more than two days, but is now at a relatively contained rate and our crews are working to extinguishing the fire and keep the people of Georgia safe,” Davis said.
“It’s a very dangerous situation and we’re all looking at a long recovery.”
The fire started in Valdezia County, located about 15 miles (24 kilometers) west of Atlanta, according an official from the county fire department.
The Georgia National Park Service said that the blaze is under control, and it is expected to be contained by the end of the day.
“DNR is actively engaged in the response to the fire, and the fire has been reduced to an isolated structure fire,” the agency said in a statement.
“There are no ongoing threat to the public or the communities within the park.
We are working closely with the Georgia State Police to assist them in the investigation and recovery efforts.”
The state fire department is not conducting any additional operations at this time, according.
The agency was previously asked to help by the federal government to control a fire that was burning near the White House on Friday, but that request was denied, the department said.
The National Weather Service has issued an advisory for the area and is warning residents to be prepared for extreme heat and wind.
A high of 85 degrees is expected Sunday morning, the weather service said.