PASCAGOULA -- Pushed by high winds, a wildfire that was 400 acres in Jackson County on Friday grew to 4,227 acres Monday and is getting closer to homes in the community of Grand Bay, Ala.
The fire started Thursday, and is still burning a national wildlife refuge in Mississippi and remote marshes of Alabama south of Interstate 10.
The good news is it was considered 50 percent contained Monday -- the highest amount of containment firefighters have been able to achieve since it started -- and smoke didn't appear to be interfering with traffic along Interstate 10 and U.S. 90.
But officials were concerned about unpredictable winds brought by Monday's storms. Containment lines -- cleared paths to give the fire nothing to latch onto -- that firefighters built to protect Grand Bay were expected to hold as long as the wind cooperates. Grand Bay was estimated to be 1 to 2 miles from the fire Monday.
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Strong winds on Sunday -- 17 mph -- caused flames to jump previous containment lines.
Roughly a dozen structures -- homes, a business and the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve buildings in Jackson County near where the fire started -- are evacuated and being protected.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was heading the effort Monday with 67 firefighters and help from the Mississippi and Alabama forestry commissions and Jackson County Emergency Management Services.
The fire was first reported at 4 p.m. Thursday, believed to be started on private property near homes in east Jackson County, and moved rapidly onto the ref
uge to threaten buildings at the NERR.
A spokeswoman for the fire fighting team Monday said the NERR has become a staging area for the effort and was no longer considered in imminent danger.
Firefighters didn't get help from the rain they expected Sunday night, but another storm system Monday was expected to bring up to 1.5 inches of rain, the spokeswoman said.
Even though smoke along the highways was thin Monday, the Wildlife Service continued to issue smoke-caution warnings to motorists because the conditions are so unpredictable.
The fire is continuing to burn in remote marsh, on pine savannah with thick underbrush to feed it and in some areas with timber.