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Fire Forces Fla. Town Evacuation

June 18, 1998

WALDO, Fla. (AP) _ The streets of this small north Florida town were virtually empty Thursday after a night that brought a wildfire crackling up to residents’ back yards.

The fire charred about 7,000 acres in forests west of Waldo and forced many of the more than 1,000 residents to leave. Flames came within 5 feet of one home, but in the end, only a barn burned.

Officials on Thursday were only urging _ not ordering _ residents to stay away because of heavy smoke and the threat of flare-ups. Only a minority of the population decided not to heed the advice.

``Waldo is closed today,″ said Lt. Spencer Mann of the sheriff’s office. ``They won’t be going back today.″

Gov. Lawton Chiles toured scorched areas west of Jacksonville, and said he would seek federal help to help fight fires that have caused at least 13 injuries and one death as well as damaged 80 homes in the state.

At least 107 fires have erupted mostly in north and central Florida, scorching 46,000 acres since May 25. The lack of rain and record-setting heat have left many of parts of the state tinder dry.

``We’ve got so many, we are just overwhelmed,″ Chiles said.

Firefighters from Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Kentucky are helping fight fires on Jacksonville’s west side, which have been burning for four days, prompting evacuations in a few neighborhoods.

National Weather Service forecaster Scott Carroll said the hot, dry spell gripping the state and fueling the fires shows no signs of letting up in the immediate future.

Thunderstorms aren’t likely to return until at least Sunday or Monday, he said. When they do, the showers are likely to be scattered and not prolonged enough to do much extinguishing.

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