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10,000 Acres of Forest Burn in Fla.

June 21, 1998

Wildfires kept dozens of evacuated residents near Deland away from their homes Sunday, as a mammoth blaze consumed 10,000 acres of forest owned by paper and timber companies in north-central Florida, threatening several homes.

Firefighters battled smaller blazes in about a half dozen other counties on this summer solstice, when the scorching Florida sunshine was out longer than on any other day of the year.

No injuries were reported, though emergency management officials were warning people with respiratory problems to stay indoors because of heavy smoke. Smoke from the scattered fires also cut visibility on several central Florida roadways down to as little as half a mile.

Since Memorial Day, fires have burned 76,000 acres in 39 counties, damaging 72 homes and 41 other structures in Florida. President Clinton has declared the entire state a fire disaster area, and a statewide, outdoor, burning ban remains in effect, indefinitely.

Adding to the problem was the fact that little relief was in sight for the drought-stricken counties of north and central Florida. Forecasters at the National Weather Service said there was just a 30 percent chance of rain for Monday.

A major culprit in the ongoing heat wave over much of the Sunshine State was a lingering high pressure system, according to David Faciane, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Tallahassee, the state capital.

That high, Faciane said, was blocking formation of the rain showers that usually pour down daily this time of year _ which also is Florida’s hurricane season.

Still, some thunderstorms were reported in some parts of Florida Sunday afternoon.

But the handful of thunderstorms that rolled across central Florida late Saturday actually sparked a fire that gutted 16 units at an Orlando apartment complex. Dozens of people were left homeless by the blaze at The Resort at Lake Frederica.

``If a thunder shower falls, it’s a big help _ but they also bring winds and lightening,″ explained Barbara Doran, a spokeswoman for the Florida Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee.

``It’s sort of a mixed blessing.″

In Volusia County, about 40 miles north of Orlando, at least 30 people were still being kept away from their homes in an area near Deland, just north of U.S. 92. A shelter was open for the evacuees, but only four people spent Saturday night at the proffered lodging.

Firefighters battled at least a half dozen major fires that have to date have burned 14,000 acres throughout the county, said Volusia spokeswoman Cindy Finney. That was down from nearly two dozen blazes Saturday night _ many of them believed set by lightening strikes.

Most of the blazes, Ms. Finney noted, were in an unpopulated area in the middle of the county.

Planes were dumping water and fire retardant over the blazes Sunday. At least two fires broke out of their containment area along State Road 40 but no structures were threatened. All roads remained open.

``This is not unexpected,″ said Jim Mauney deputy chief of Volusia County’s fire department. ``As the weather gets warmer throughout the day, the ground heats up and fires become more active.″

In North Florida, state officials reported, firefighters had a 13,000-acre fire in Apalachicola National Forest 70 percent contained. That massive fire has been burning since Memorial Day.

Smaller _ but still dangerous _ fires kept on burning in Baker, Columbia, Flagler, Gulf, Putnam and Okaloosa counties, according to state emergency management officials.

In Taylor County, about 60 miles east of Tallahassee, 90 firefighters fought a blaze that so far has burned 10,000 acres of forest owned by the Gilman Paper and Foley Timber companies.

That fire is in an area known as San Pedro Bay, on the border of Lafayette and Madison counties. It began as three fires Thursday that each burned hundreds of acres before converging as one larger fire.

Firefighters brought in from North Carolina and South Carolina were helping try to contain the Taylor County fire. Ten residents whose homes are just two miles from the blaze were warned Sunday that they might have to evacuate.

A shelter was on standby status in Perry, in case of an evacuation.

``It’s hot. It’s very hot,″ said Roy Dennis Woods, director of Taylor County’s emergency management. ``It’s burning on top and on the ground.″

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