ST. GEORGE, Ga. (AP) -- The wildfire burning for weeks in south Georgia's Okefenokee Swamp was now so close that Mason Pair could see its orange glow through the trees, the large flakes of ash raining down around his home in St. George.
Facing an evacuation order, Pair and his wife packed up their valuables and had a ladder standing by to put sprinklers on their roof Monday. But like many in this small community about 2,000 near the Georgia-Florida state line, they weren't yet ready to leave everything to the mercy of the flames now burning less than 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the center of town.
"It's a little unnerving," said the 26-year-old resident. "But the flames are going to have to push people out of here."
Emergency officials in south Georgia's Charlton County ordered a mandatory evacuation Sunday for all of St. George and for nearby Moniac, small rural communities on the southeastern edge of the Okefenokee Swamp.
Lightning sparked a wildfire on April 6 inside the vast Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.
The blaze posed little threat to people or homes until Saturday, when strong winds pushed the flames across the fire breaks plowed along the refuge perimeter. As of Monday, the fire had burned 210 square miles (544 square kilometers), including about 37 square miles (95 square kilometers) in Charlton County.
Pair said perhaps half of his neighbors had heeded the weekend order to evacuate.
Officials weren't forcing people to leave their homes, but were urging them to get out before the fire gets any closer, said Susan Heisey, supervisory ranger for the Okefenokee refuge.
"The accumulated moisture in the vegetation is at record-breaking lows right now," said Heisey, a spokeswoman for the command team fighting the blaze. "These fuels, they're getting one little piece of ash and the fire's just picking up and moving."
More than 600 firefighters and support personnel were fighting the fire Monday. Helicopters dumping water and tanker planes spraying fire retardant managed to keep the fire from spreading to homes in St. George over the weekend. Firefighters with tractor plows worked to carve a path of bare soil around the town to keep the flames away.
Charlton County schools were closed Monday because of the blaze and a shelter was opened at a recreation center in a neighboring county.
Heisey said there was no way to know how long the evacuation order would stand.
James and Lisa Burnsed drove the 10 miles from their home in Moniac to the four-way stop with a small grocery on one corner that's the center St. George. The fire had jumped across Georgia Highway 94, their main evacuation route, late Sunday and they wanted to see if there was still a clear way out Monday.
"It's going to have to get pretty close to the house, I think, before we just head out," James Burnsed said. "We've got too much at stake just to leave it."
His wife said they had important documents, family photos and spare clothing packed and ready to go.
"But we've got goats and chickens," Lisa Burnsed said. "And we don't know how we're going to get them out."
Emergency Management officials in nearby Nassau County, Florida, along the line with Georgia, are urging residents in the St. Marys River area to start preparing in case they're asked to evacuate.
Many counties in the area also have issued burn bans.
In a separate wildfire, three schools near Tampa on Florida's Gulf Coast canceled classes Monday due to smoky conditions. Florida's Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said the state is in the "midst of its worst wildfire season in years --- with no end in sight."
Putnam said in a news release that nearly 125 active wildfires were burning in Florida as of Monday morning.