USA — The first sizeable brush fire of the winter season has charred more than 300 acres along State Road 21 between Melrose and Hawthorne since Friday evening and was about 50 percent contained by Saturday evening.
State Division of Forestry spokeswoman Ludie Bond said the cause of the fire is unknown but added it was not from a lightning strike.
This fire is the largest one in our area at the beginning of the winter fire season, Bond said. Were seeing that any sort of sparks or embers, whether from hay-baling equipment or yard debris burns, can travel very fast because the fuels the grass and the leaves on the ground are extremely dry or dead from the freezes.
The fire is east of State Road 21 about halfway between Melrose and Hawthorne in the Levy Prairie area. Bond said the fire has not threatened any homes.
It was first spotted about 5 p.m. Friday and grew with brisk winds and low humidity. Bond said the growth slowed overnight as the winds died down and humidity increased.
Crews from the Division of Forestry and fire departments from Alachua and Putnam counties worked overnight and through Saturday to contain the blaze and had it half under control.
Rain expected to pour on the area today should help, Bond said. But dry, breezy conditions that may follow the rain could quickly dry the region out again.
Bond said the terrain made it difficult for crews to get equipment to the blaze.
It is not a heavily populated area, but there are homes interspersed in there, Bond said. We felt very confident about getting lines around this fire. The challenge with this type of vegetation is that it is dry, thick muck. You cant get equipment into it because it will get stuck. Other than just pumping thousands of gallons of water to try to flood the fire out, the best you can do is to have a very secure line around the perimeter of the fire and then monitor it.
Bond said brush or grass fires of a few acres have already occurred in the area but she added the SR 21 fire is the largest. Fire season has come a bit earlier than usual because early freezes.
Alachua County this week instituted a burn ban. Bond said it is the only county in the region, and possibly the state, with a burn ban in effect. Homeowners cannot burn yard debris when a ban is in place.