PASCAGOULA -- A fire in Grand Bature, part of the Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge, has spread to 3,065 acres as of Sunday afternoon, officials said.
The fire began Thursday near a few homes in a remote area of south Jackson County before moving into the Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Brittany Petersen with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Saturday night the fire was 30 percent contained and that number remains unchanged. A forecast for winds out of the southeast could carry smoke across U.S. 90 and Interstate 10. Motorists should use caution when driving in this area.
When the fire spread into Alabama on Saturday, it moved into a remote marsh area which is inaccessible to fire equipment, officials said. The Alabama Forestry Commission has joined the unified command battling the fire. There are now 55 people assigned to the Grand Bature Fire, including federal, state and local agencies.
Teams of firefighters cut wide fire lanes through the undergrowth on the refuge to protect buildings at the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve on Friday. Those buildings house offices, an interpretative area, classrooms, laboratories and a dormitory.
"The fire in Alabama is primarily in the marsh," Petersen said. "This area is very remote and difficult to access. The Alabama Forestry Commission is being brought into the incident command to help with this fire."
Officials said crews are performing an operation called a burnout, where they purposefully and strategically set fires ahead of the wildfire to remove fuels from its path. This helps trap the fire to keep it from advancing.
Melissa Perez, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said officials believe the fire originated at the end of Grand Bature Road, near Sam Road. It had started on private property, then moved onto public land. On Friday, the wind was pushing the fire away from any homes in that area.
Petersen said Bayou Heron Road would remain closed, but residents who were evacuated are being allowed back to their homes after a "successful burnout operation that helped to further protect the structures."
Perez said Friday crews fought the fire by cutting fire lanes because the density of the smoke in the remote marsh area made it impossible to get equipment in to fight the fire. She said they are dealing with wind gusts, and having difficulty not only getting equipment in to fight, but also getting a good assessment.
"It's in the deep marsh and hard to see," she said.