FL, USA — Groups of strangers with shovels and buckets rushed to help overwhelmed firefighters save homes in the path of wind-whipped brush fires.
At least 71 homes were damaged or destroyed by fires in Palm Bay, and an evacuation of about 200 homes located near Bayside High School was ordered after fires flared up Monday.
As the fires began to spread, a group of men and women formed to help people they didnt know save their homes.
“I cant sit by and watch,” resident Matt Call said. “I cant evacuate and run away. I have to step up.”
Call and Robert Johnson were part of a group running to fire lines to help strangers.
“If it makes a difference of me saving one of my neighbors’ homes by staying here and helping then I stay here and fight,” Call said.
If this house goes, then it is going to jump to the next house and then the next house and then eventually to mine, Johnson said.
The group of men and women were forced to use shovels and buckets of water carried from other locations because water was shut off at homes near flames.
Conditions Remain Extreme
Conditions continue to be difficult for firefighters officials said at an early news conference Tuesday.
It is estimated that flames have charred at least 6,000 acres of land in Central Florida this week.
“We are very early in the fire season,” Asst. Fire Chief Jim Stables said. “For those of you who remember 1998, we went through the Fourth of July, in fact, we had to cancel many of the events of Fourth of July. And here we are early in May, and we are facing some of the most extreme fire conditions that I’ve seen in my 20-plus years in this fire service.”
Arsonist Set 9 Fires In Palm Bay
Meanwhile, Fire crews worked nearly 20 different fires in Palm Bay Monday. Police believe a large portion of the fires may be linked to arson.
A $10,000 reward was offered for information on suspicious activity concerning the fires.
Anyone with information concerning the fires is urged to call the Crimeline at 800-423-TIPS.
State Of Emergency Declared
Also, Gov. Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency in Brevard and Volusia counties Monday. He also planned to tour the damage Tuesday, Local 6 has learned.
Crists declaration allows Florida to tap federal funds and the National Guard.
The declaration also brings local emergency workers under state control and allows Florida to call on other states for help, if necessary.
In addition, the mayor of Palm Bay and Brevard County officials have declared states of emergency.
More Homes Threatened
Meantime, brush fires continue to pose a threat to homes in the area of Rocky Point Road in Malabar, Brevard County Fire-Rescue representatives said. The fire has jumped U.S. 1 and is continuing east, prompting the closure of U.S. 1 at Rocky Point Road to Valkaria Road, Local 6 News partner Florida Today reported.
Other areas threatened by brush fires in the Malabar/Valkaria area were Gradick Drive, Henderson Drive, Greenbrooke Street, and areas between Valley Road and Valkaria Road. The fires have have consumed about 2,300 acres and are still growing, said Orlando Dominguez, chief of EMS and public information officer for BCFR.
Dominguez said there are more than 100 firefighters on the ground and air support also is being provided.
30-Foot Flames Spotted
In Cocoa, 30-foot-high flames threatened more than 100 homes during a 250-acre fire, prompting several evacuations.
“I got knots in my stomach,” fire victim Pam Hales said. “My daughter cooked Mother’s Day dinner and we have not been able to eat it. We tried to eat, but nobody could eat.”
Daytona Fire 55 Percent Contained
According to the Division of Forestry, an 800-acre brush fire in Daytona Beach was 55 percent contained.
There have been flare-ups on both sides of LPGA Boulevard, inside the LPGA International subdivision and behind the Bayberry Lakes subdivision, officials said.
Fire crews were able to cut additional fire lines around the fire before the weather conditions deteriorated.
Residents who evacuated from the LPGA International subdivision remained evacuated from their homes Monday afternoon. However, residents who need to go back to their homes for medical supplies are being allowed in for a brief amount of time with police escort. Residents need to go to Tomoka Farms Road and LPGA Boulevard and have picture identification.
The Red Cross shelter continued to offer help for evacuees.
The shelter is at the Hampton Inn, 1715 West International Speedway Blvd., Daytona Beach. The City of Daytona Beach has a hotline for evacuated residents to call for information. The number is 386-671-5347.