Fires in Florida

Fires inFlorida

8 May 2006

A wildfire and smoke occured near New Smyrna Beach in Florida. CNN News reported that wildfire forced about 1000 people to flee their homes and closed a major highway (I-95) in New Smyrna Beach, Florida:

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05/07/2006 20:06 UTC
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Latest news report on the fires in Florida:

Wildfires turn deadly but mostly contained

Some Volusia residents allowed to return to homes, but parts of I-95 remain closed

by Erin Ailworth, Laurin Sellers, Kevin P. Connolly and Kristen Reed

Firefighters mostly contained a 1,320-acre brush fire in Volusia County today, and some residents of the hardest hit area were being allowed back to their homes.

But the fire did spread to a median on Interstate 95 in part of Volusia, leading officials to keep the road closed until at least 9 a.m. Tuesday. Southbound traffic is being diverted at Exit 256 (State Road 421) while northbound is being diverted at Exit 244 (State Road 442.)

“Heavy smoke is expected throughout this time, reducing visibility on the roadway,” according to a release from the Florida Highway Patrol at 5 p.m. today

The fire is still burning, but it has not spread significantly since Sunday’s wildfires closed roads, forced evaculations and led to a deadly crash on Sunday. Officials said at 5:20 p.m. today that the fire was 70 percent contained.

“Power has been restored to most homes,” Volusia officials said on their Web site. “Cable and phone service may be restored tomorrow.”

Residents of the Sugar Mill Drive area in Volusia, including the Verandas and Sugar Mill subdivisions, are being allowed to return to their homes this afternoon. Residents in all but 20 of the 914 homes that were evaculated over the weekend were able to go home this afternoon.

Meanwhile, portions of Interstate 95 in Volusia remain closed this afternoon, but at last report State Road 44 was reopened.

It is not known when I-95 in Volusia from County Road 421 and County Road 442 will reopen. Drivers should use U.S. 1 as the primary detour to I-95.

Meanwhile, I-95 and the BeachLine Expressway in Brevard County, which were closed this morning because of smoke and fog, reopened about 9 a.m. today.

But just the fear that a 6,000-acre smoldering muck fire could suddenly send blinding plumes back over Interstate 95 prompted the Florida Highway Patrol today to shut down the highway and the BeachLine Expressway from 5 a.m. until 9 a.m. indefinitely.

The closures kept traffic backed up for miles today along parts of the county’s other main arteries, U.S. Highway 1 and State Road 520 in central Brevard. While some locals used short cuts and back roads to get to work, tourists sat helplessly deadlocked in a stream of bumpers.

“It has been mayhem,” said Barbara Matthews, spokeswoman for the police department in Cocoa where U.S. 1 and State Road 520 converge. “Usually you can get right down U.S. 1 with no problems.”

In Volusia, fire crews had managed to cut 8-foot wide lines around the blaze, which started at about 1 p.m. Sunday near the Sugar Mill Estates subdivision, officials said at a morning press conference.

“The weather is telling us the winds will be out of the southwest this morning,” said New Smyrna Beach City Manager Frank Roberts this morning. “What we are doing is putting the initial plan of attack along Pioneer Trail and the Sugar Mill subdivision.

“Now during the day the winds are supposed to shift to the east,” Roberts said,” and at that point we will shift the plan of attack… parallel to Airport Road.”

Roberts said firefighters were trying to keep the flames from spreading to a pine hammock in that area “because if it does we’re going to have a large fire again.” Roberts said peat in the area was also a concern, because it could allow the fire to lay low and then spring back up unexpectedly.

“We’re one of the places that didn’t get hit in 1998 and so we have a lot of kindling,” he said.

As of this morning, more that 125 fire personnel were working the blaze. Three homes are either damaged or destroyed, and assessments are ongoing. A mandatory evacuation had been issued for 800 people in the area and another 200 were under voluntary evacuation orders, officials said.

Central Florida’s tinderbox of wildfires turned both deadly and damaging Sunday, leaving homes evacuated and major roads closed during the morning rush hour today.

The smoke from the smoldering brush fires and a layer of morning fog caused slow traffic in Volusia and Brevard counties this morning — and at least in Brevard it could be that way for a while.

Earlier Sunday, smoky fog from a long-smoldering fire in Brevard County caused a fiery early-morning wreck that left two drivers dead and injured two others.

Seven miles of I-95 was closed in Volusia on Sunday night, and the fatal chain-reaction crash earlier in the day closed 20 miles of Florida’s busiest highway for eight hours.

Sunday marked one of the worst wildfire days Central Florida has seen in years as the region’s dry spell stretched into another day.

The quick-moving Volusia blaze had firefighters from several agencies scrambling to contain it and save homes threatened by the flames. Fast-changing, gusty winds kept steering the fire in different directions, frustrating officials as the inferno grew by hundreds of acres.

“It’s been a long day. You feel sort of helpless at times. It’s tough to turn it [the fire] around,” said Roberts, the city manager for New Smyrna Beach. “We have the kindling there . . ., and it’s using it.”

At one point late Sunday, officials had to move their temporary command center after the fire came within half a mile of the area on S.R. 44.

As today began, the fire was still out of control, and firefighting “strike teams” fought to keep the fire from reaching what officials described as a pollution-control center. Forestry officials said the wildfire was only about 20 percent contained, and more than 100 firefighting crews were battling the blaze.

One New Smyrna Beach firefighter was treated for smoke inhalation and was in stable condition, but no other injuries were reported.

Officials issued a mandatory evacuation Sunday afternoon for an area roughly bounded by I-95 to the west, Glencoe Road to the east, S.R. 44 to the south and Pioneer Trail to the north and also includes the Sugar Mill Estates subdivision north of Pioneer. A voluntary evacuation area stretched farther north to Spruce Creek and east to Turnbull Bay Road.

Tina Fye, one of several hundred residents within the voluntary-evacuation area, was at a cookout at her twin sister’s house in Port Orange when they saw the fire on TV. Her sister, Terri Lenning, said, “Whoa, New Smyrna is on fire.”

Fye, 48, rushed home and was relieved to find everything OK, but she and her boyfriend said they knew that could change quickly with such unpredictable winds. “I’ll be up all night,” she said. “I just pray for everybody in Sugar Mill.”

Officials opened a shelter for evacuees at Babe James Center, 201 N. Myrtle Ave., where about 45 people — mostly from the Sugar Mill subdivision — were staying late Sunday.

The mood inside the shelter was upbeat, said Janet and Andy Walsh, who were there with seven grandchildren and other relatives who had come to the Walshes’ home in Sugar Mill Estates for a family reunion.

“The boys think it’s a big adventure,” Andy Walsh said of his grandsons. “They’ve got foosball and basketball and all these things we couldn’t in a Marriott.”

Connie Rady and a pair of neighbors with whom she became friends during Hurricane Charley had little time to gather belongings before fleeing. She was thankful she had her three cats with her. “I couldn’t leave without my babies,” she said. She and her neighbors left the shelter after they found rooms at a hotel that allows pets.

A shelter for people with pets also was opened at the Volusia County Fairgrounds in the Talton Building on S.R. 44.

Officials also set up two citizen-information lines: 386-424-2113 and 386-424-2114.

The fire, which destroyed a house in the Pioneer Trail area south of Sugar Mill, flared up about 1 p.m. Sunday east of the Venetian Bay subdivision, which is west of I-95. The fire moved east and crossed I-95 about 3:30 p.m., fueled by gusty winds and dry conditions.

The blaze forced officials to shut down a section of I-95 between Port Orange and New Smyrna Beach. They also shut down Pioneer Trail from Airport Road/Venetian Bay to Sugar Mill Drive. Sunday night, S.R. 44, a main east-west route out of New Smyrna Beach, was shut down from I-95 to S.R. 415 as the blaze burned to the edge of the highway.

Officials said the late-afternoon and early-evening sea breezes seemed to help slow the fire for a while by directing it into areas that had already burned. But as the evening wore on, the blaze became more erratic as the winds shifted direction repeatedly.

“The winds are becoming swirly,” said Greg Dunn, a senior forester with the state Division of Forestry. That made the fire even more dangerous to fight in the dark, he said.

Officials urged residents to check news reports today for the updated information about road closures and traffic conditions.

They also reminded residents to use extreme caution as Central Florida struggles with conditions that are favorable for massive wildfires.

“With it being so dry, until we get a significant amount of rain, we are going to be closely monitoring all areas of the county for potential wildfires,” Volusia County spokeswoman Shelley Szafraniec said Sunday. “People just need to be real cognizant of what they’re doing out there because a fire could start real easily.”

More than 2,200 wildfires have burned over 44,000 acres in Florida since Jan. 1, according to the state Division of Forestry.

The fire near New Smyrna Beach overshadowed a small wildfire Sunday in Deltona.

Acrid smoke and white ash from a roughly 5-acre fire blanketed Galveston Avenue in Deltona and forced residents to evacuate three homes. Firefighters contained the blaze and lost no structures, said Robert Rogers, Deltona’s deputy fire chief.


A wildfire burns Sunday in New Smyrna Beach. Gusty winds kept steering the fire in different directions, frustrating officials

Firefighters battle flames approaching a water treatment plant in the New Smyrna Beach area Sunday. About 800 people were forced to evacuate their homes

A wildfire blazes through New Smyrna Beach Sunday. About 800 people were forced to evacuate their homes

A fire near a house on Pioneer Trail in New Smyrna Beach

A firefighter keeps water on trees on Pioneer Trail in New Smyrna Beach

Flames in the woods off of Pioneer Trail in New Smyrna Beach

Smoke rises from a wooded area behind a Chevron gas station along SR 44 in New Smyrna Sunday evening, May 7, 2006

A helicopter carrying water over a fire off of Pioneer Trail in New Smyrna Beach

Fire near Pioneer Trail. 700 acres near the Sugar Mill Estates in New Smyrna Beach are on fire today and the fire has crossed I-95, which is now closed

Heavy smoke from a wildfire drifts from the west to the east across Interstate 95 in Volusia County

A jogger passes traffic on the BeachLine Expressway this morning in Rockledge. Smoldering brush fires kept about 1,000 people from their homes

Vehicles drive through a smoky haze this morning in Rockledge. Heavy smoke shut down parts of Interstate 95 and the BeachLine Expressway

An aerial view of one of the homes destroyed by a wildfire in the Sugarmill Estates. Firefighters are planning a two-pronged attack today to battle a 1,000-acre brush fire in Volusia County as it continues to burn parts of New Smyrna Beach

Cousins Kevin Dailey, 13, left, Ryan Dobbs, 5, center and their newly purchased turtles along, with Lauren Dobbs, 2, and her mother Liz Dobbs of Atlanta, Ga and several other members of their extended family had to relocate their family reunion to an emergency shelter after the New Smyrna Beach residence where they were gathering underwent emergency evacuation orders on Sunday, May 7, 2006

Threatened by the spreading fire, Connie Rady evacuated her New Smyrna Beach home with her cats, Opal (front), Gremlin (back) and Cub (not pictured), on Sunday. They went to a shelter and then to a hotel that allows pets

(image courtesy:

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