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Headway Made on Florida Fires

June 8, 1998

PALM COAST, Fla. (AP) _ When Cindy Hawkins returned to her neighborhood after weekend brush and forest fires swept through central Florida, she expected the worst.

Her Seminole Woods home was on the list of buildings that the Salvation Army said had burned to the ground.

But as she walked past a moonscape of burned pine trees that still glowed and smoked, Mrs. Hawkins, 34, caught a glimpse of her home.

``Oh, God!″ she screamed as she started running. ``It’s still standing.″

On three sides of Mrs. Hawkins’ home, the woods and neighbors’ homes were charred. A water sprinkler her husband had put on the roof had saved the family home.

By early today, all the flames were out in the Seminole Woods subdivision, said Ray Aguiar of the Flagler County sheriff’s office.

A fire still burned this morning in Seminole County, southwest of Flagler, but its advance had been halted. ``We’ve contained it, but it’s not fully under control yet.″ said Mike Ertel, emergency services spokesman.

No rain was forecast today for the area.

The fires erupted Saturday, feeding on forests parched by weeks of drought. Hundreds of people fled to emergency shelters and about a 30-mile stretch of Interstate 95 was shut down for hours during the night, backing up traffic on the state’s main north-south route.

Most of the damage was in Flagler and Seminole counties in east-central Florida. Homes were also were damaged in St. Johns County and fires swept through Duval, Lake and Brevard counties.

At least 50 buildings were destroyed, including 20 homes in Flagler County, which includes Palm Coast and nearby Bunnell, and 15 homes in Seminole County, officials said.

A bullet’s spark ignited underbrush at the Doughnut Lake Hunting Camp shooting range, burning 1,700 acres near Palm Coast. About 1,200 acres burned in Seminole County.

Some residents returned Sunday to find nothing left.

``I’m in total shock,″ said Mimi Davis, as she went through the burned rubble of her parents’ Palm Coast house. ``It is crazy. It is like being in a movie.″

Her father, Justo Urquiza, collapsed outside the neighborhood gate when he learned his house had burned. He was hospitalized in stable condition, she said.

Kathy Mazzillo was only able to grab her insurance papers when emergency workers knocked on her Seminole County door Saturday and told her to get out with her husband and their three children and three dogs.

Evacuees had not yet been allowed back to her neighborhood Sunday, but Mrs. Mazzillo had already sneaked through the woods in the night to survey her mobile home.

``The only thing there were ashes and the beams that held up the trailer,″ she said.

Her mother’s trailer next door was also destroyed, as was her mother’s animal pen. The fire killed her mother’s 30 rabbits, 25 chickens and eight guinea pigs. A pen filled with pigs was spared.

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