Firefighters Battle to Control 26,500-Acre Florida Wildfire
About 300 firefighters, including National Guard troops, dropped water by helicopter and plowed firebreaks in dense woods Sunday to keep a 26,500-acre wildfire from expanding.
The fire, 13 miles long and 5 miles wide, burned across three counties but posed no immediate threat to nearby sparsely populated areas, said Paul Wills, state Division of Forestry spokesman.
No injuries had been reported in the blaze, which was started by lightning Wednesday, Wills said.
He said the firefighters successfully kept the blaze within fire lines in the afternoon, when winds were most likely to spread the flames. But he said that without two to three inches of rain, the fire could eventually jump the lines.
“It’s a cliffhanger situation,” Wills said. No heavy rain is forecast at least through Thursday, although showers fell north and south of the fire on Sunday.
‘It’s Just a Tinderbox’
“The real stumbling block has been the absolute absence of water on the surface of the land,” Wills said. “These are wetlands by nature and when it dries off, it’s just a tinderbox.”
Heavy winds and an abundance of dry vegetation and timber in Madison, Taylor and Lafayette counties in northern Florida made the blaze so smoky “at times our spotter planes don’t even know where it is,” Wills said.
Smoke and haze could be seen as far south as Gainesville, about 120 miles from the outbreak, according to the National Weather Service. The service said the air quality near the fire was unhealthful, and advised people with respiratory ailments to stay indoors.
The Guard on Sunday dropped water from four helicopters. Other firefighters continued to burn backfires to choke the wildfire, and about 60 heavy plows were used to turn over vegetation, Wills said.
‘Widening Our Fire Lines’
“We’re widening our fire lines. It’s important to get rid of the vegetation before the fire can get to it,” Wills said. “With all the plowing, it looks like superhighways through the woods.”
Smoke forced police to close parts of Florida 53, a highway where the fire was raging three miles away in some spots.
Meanwhile, about 50 firefighters in Sarasota in western Florida on Sunday battled eight serious fires that broke out the previous night, the largest covering 3,050 acres about 12 miles east of Venice, according to Josie Bahac, a Forestry Division spokeswoman.
Most of those fires were controlled by Sunday afternoon, she said.