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Helicopters, Bulldozers in Battle as New Florida Fires Break Out

Times Wire Services

Firefighters using bulldozers and helicopters fought to hold back a 12-mile-long wildfire Saturday that threatened dozens of homes in north-central Florida and has burned up to 21,000 acres in four days.

Meanwhile, lightning touched off a new string of fires in southern Florida, putting a strain on resources already spread thin, state forestry spokesman Charles Maynard said. But he said none of the new fires immediately threatened any communities.

Smoke and haze from the Madison-area fire were reported as far east as Jacksonville and as far south as Gainesville, both about 120 miles from the blaze.

“It’s a large, expensive and troublesome fire to put out, and it has smoked up the countryside,” said Paul Wills, a spokesman for the state Division of Forestry. “It has not disrupted life greatly. There’s no panic.”

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Wills said high winds made firefighting efforts difficult. “The smoke is so thick you can’t see the fire from the airplanes.”

No serious injuries or damages have been reported.

A weeklong heat wave coupled with an extended drought has put most of Florida in extreme fire danger, forestry officials said.

National Guard troops called out Friday by Gov. Bob Graham dug fire lines with bulldozers and dropped thousands of gallons of water from helicopters.

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Wills said that between 40 and 50 houses were threatened by the fire in the forest south of Madison, but firefighters had about that many fire trucks filled with water to protect the structures. Nearly all the residents evacuated the area voluntarily.

“Every house has got its own tank truck parked beside it ready to wet down the house and yard,” Wills said.

“They’ve (firefighters) kind of got their backs to people’s yards. If we can get past this afternoon, we’ll have some expectation that we can hold the fire, because we can widen the fire lines when it calms down tonight.”

The fire area was about two miles south of Interstate 10, but travel was maintained on the highway because winds kept the smoke aloft. Florida 53, however, was closed to all but necessary traffic. Interstate 75, which was closed for several hours Friday, reopened Saturday morning.

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A 1,400-acre fire burning near Fort Myers in South Florida was contained by 2 p.m. Saturday, forestry officials said.


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