Fires Continue, But Worst May Be Over
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Hundreds of firefighters aided by bulldozers struggled Friday to contain a 4,000-acre brush fire in southwest Florida that destroyed 12 homes and forced evacuation of 200 people. Across the state a second major fire raged on in the Everglades.
The more serious fire was burning in tinder-dry vegetation in the sprawling Golden Gate subdivision of Naples in southwest Florida. A fireline of plowed earth was widened to 100 feet by midday, giving forest rangers a better chance to contain the blaze, said Mike Long, chief of the Division of Forestry’s Fire Control Bureau.
That inferno had killed one ranger and helped prompt Gov. Bob Graham to declare a state of emergency and send in the National Guard.
″It’s more severe than I had anticipated,″ Graham said after touring the area Thursday.
Homes saved by firelines and other firefighting efforts stood as green islands amid gray, smoldering forests in the thinly populated area. Some homes were half-burned, while others were little more than blackened concrete blocks, melted lawn furniture and ashes.
Dense smoke made it difficult to tell if more homes had been destroyed, said Lt. Aaron Keen of the Collier County Sheriff’s Department. He put the total at perhaps a dozen.
About 200 people had been evacuated from the area, some to a Red Cross shelter, including people who had been burned out and those who were able to return after the danger had passed, Long said.
Two National Guard water-dumping helicopters reached the scene early Friday and helped douse hot spots in and around the fire’s perimeter, said Larry Amison of the forestry division.
″Right now, we have everything contained inside the fire lines,″ he said after a briefing with Long. ″We spent last night widening the lines. If we can keep it where we’ve got it, today we can maybe think of mop-up work. It’s too early to say.″
Nearly 500 firefighters - volunteer and private - were joined by law enforcement officials and members of rescue teams to combat the Golden Gate fire, Long said.
Meanwhile, in Broward County west of Fort Lauderdale in southeast Florida, about 50,000 acres of uninhabited Everglades grasslands, dotted only by slightly elevated ″islands″ of hardwood trees, continued to burn.
That blaze, bordered by two major canals and two highways, was expected to eventually burn itself out, Amison said.
Rangers were igniting dry sawgrass around the fire, hoping the controlled backfires would deprive the main blaze of fuel. Earlier predictions were that it might burn 100,000 acres, but Amison said Friday it may stop at 55,000 when the controlled burning was finished.
Amison said an extended weather forecast called for rain Saturday night.
Since Jan. 1, 1,505 fires in Florida have burned 57,091 acres of forested land, Amison said. Those figures don’t include grasslands such as the Everglades fire.
The average over the last 10 years for January was 1,069 fires burning 25,420 acres, Long said.
The bone-dry weather in South Florida’s normally dry season coupled with killer freezes that killed much vegetation for the high number of fires this year, officials said.
Golden Gate is also dry because it is laced with canals dug by developers to drain the land, once naturally flooded much of the year.
Commissioner of Agriculture Doyle Conner, whose department includes the Division of Forestry, toured the region Friday.
Firefighter Marco A. Miranda, 26, was killed Wednesday when the tractor he was operating was surrounded by flames in Golden Gate.
Eddie Richardson, 34, of Naples was being held in lieu of $310,000 bond on arson charges in connection with a blaze south of Golden Gate, said Keen. He said deputies also were investigating Richardson in connection with the fire in which Miranda died.