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Everglades wildfire, sparked by lightning, burns 17,000 acres

A fire ignited by lightning has burned 17,000 acres in the Everglades, pumping billows of smoke across western Broward County and bringing warnings about breathing problems for South Florida residents.

If the winds change, the smoke could drift toward Palm Beach County, authorities said. The expanding fire is likely to continue until rain arrives.

The area, burning since about 6:30 p.m. Sunday, is 1.2 miles north of Interstate 75 and 3.9 miles west of U.S. 27.

Wind blowing from the west has prompted concern that motorists on U.S. 27 might have trouble seeing the road, said Scott Peterich, wildlife mitigation specialist with the Florida Forest Service’s Everglades District.

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Smoke also could affect travelers on the Alligator Alley portion of Interstate 75, said Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who branded the inferno the #SawgrassFire.

Motorists and residents in the area should slow down, turn on their headlights and watch for emergency vehicles, said Jim Karels, state forester and director of the Florida Forest Service.

Efforts to put out the fire were hampered by its remote location, Fried said. The weather was not cooperating, either.

By 8 p.m. Monday, Fried estimated the fire was 12% contained.

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Tuesday morning, winds from the north will increase, 3 to 5 mph. Afternoon sea breezes from the east will increase up to 8 mph.

The wind shift could blow any smoke that may threaten residential areas back to the west where it came from.

The chance of scattered showers and thunderstorms that could bring rain Tuesday was again forecast at 30 percent.

The fire has not hurt anyone, but people could experience difficulty breathing, depending on the intensity and the direction of smoke, Peterich said.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue recommends that people who have asthma or other breathing difficulties follow these guidelines:

  • Stay indoors with windows closed against any ash and smoke that may appear from the fire, and use the air conditioning.
  • If you must leave the house, take short trips and keep car windows closed.
  • Follow your doctor’s instructions to protect your health and take prescribed medications.
  • If you have trouble breathing, call your doctor or 911.

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