The worst outbreak of Florida wildfires in more than 50 years filled the air with smoke so thick Tuesday that infrared equipment was being used to locate the flames.
"There was so much smoke they couldn't see where the fire was," said David Greenberg, a spokesman for the state Division of Emergency Management.
"The situation is extreme. Visibility is so poor we have no way of knowing how many fires are out there," said Frank Findley, U.S. Division of Forestry spokesman.
Officials were getting reinforcements, including 20 bulldozer teams, to fight fires that scorched about 32,000 acres from Daytona Beach 30 miles northwest to Palatka.
Hundreds of residents were forced from their homes on the outskirts of Ormond Beach on Tuesday for the second time in 24 hours as advancing wildfires threatened their neighborhood. Smoke filled the skies from Orlando to Jacksonville.
"I've been feeling my lungs burning and my eyes burning," said Maria Pinzon of Fort Myers, who was staying at a time-share property in Ormond Beach. "We had some friends in New York who changed their minds about coming down here. They didn't want to expose their son to all this smoke."
Since Memorial Day, wildfires have destroyed more than 116 homes and other structures. One person has died of a heart attack and at least 23 people have been injured.
The fires have charred 118,000 acres--about 184 square miles--and have erupted in each of Florida's 67 counties except Monroe, which covers the Florida Keys. Most of the fires were started by lightning.
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Mother Nature's storms were supposed to help one of the worst outbreaks of wildfires in Florida in more than 50 years by bringing much-needed rain. Instead, lightning strikes sparked many new fires.
Approximate fire area, by COUNTY
Rainfall since May 1, percent of normal amount
Severe drought, less than 40%
Moderate drought, 40 to 60%
Slight drought, 60 to 80%
Source: Florida Division of Forestry