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Firefighters Battle Fla. Wildfires

July 1, 1998

MIMS, Fla. (AP) _ Firefighters battled flames in back yards this morning as wildfires marched to within 50 yards of some homes and put dozens of others in danger in this eastern Florida community.

Between the darkness and the smoke, firefighters couldn’t tell what burned. But officials said they did not think any homes had burned during the night, said Jeffrey Money, assistant chief of Brevard County Fire Rescue.

``We know we lost some cars, pole barns (and) sheds,″ Money said just before sunrise.

Firefighters and deputies went door-to-door to tell more than 500 people to leave, said Lt. Paul Stepina.

``We’re having a very hard time because it’s a very rural area, a very wooded area,″ Stepina said. ``The fire has lots of fuel. There’s lots of palmettos and palms trees and brush and scrub to go through.″

The fire that has burned more than 10,000 acres crept within sight of houses in Mims, about 25 miles east of Orlando.

``We’ll let all the woods burn,″ Stepina said. ``Our main goal is to protect the residents and save their valuables.″

Officials issued a mandatory evacuation order Tuesday afternoon affecting about 2,000 homes, thought residents were later allowed back in as sea breezes helped steer the fire away. But winds changed again, sending flames toward about 250 homes.

The second evacuation order did not come as a complete surprise. Authorities had told people in neighborhoods between the small towns of Mims and Scottsmoor that they could go home as long as they stayed alert to the fire’s position.

A shelter was opened at Mims Elementary School, but only a few people showed up Tuesday afternoon. Even after the first evacuation order, Gerald and Maryann Pollard sat in plastic chairs in front of their three-bedroom home and listened to a portable radio for updates on the fire.

``I don’t feel that threatened yet,″ said Gerald Pollard, while smoking and drinking a bottle of Bud Light. ``If it seems like it gets any closer, we’re ready to go.″

To the north, in hard-hit Volusia County, officials were urging _ but not ordering _ residents to stay away from about 300 homes in three areas threatened by fires. Helicopters and planes dropped water over burning woods near Lake Harney, where a 200-home subdivision about 35 miles south of Daytona Beach was threatened.

More than 1,500 fires since Memorial Day have burned 79 homes and almost 247,000 acres _ mostly forest, palmetto scrub and swamp land _ from one tip of Florida to the other.

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