Smoke from wildfires cause St. Johns school to send students elsewhere – again

Smoke from wildfires cause St. Johns school to send students elsewhere – again

05 June 2011

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USA — Smoke from at least one of about 130 fires burning within 50 miles of Jacksonville brought a stubborn haze of smoke over the city Sunday and has forced a St. Johns County school to send its students to class today in other schools.

Students at Liberty Pines Academy, at 10901 Russell Sampson Road, will hold its classes at Creekside and Bartram Trail high schools because of the smoke, school officials announced Sunday. A number of the school’s end-of-year activities have been canceled, officials noted.

Smoke billowing from the 1,300-acre Espinola fire at the St. Johns-Flagler county line was pushed over the city by southwest winds on Sunday, Florida Division of Forestry representatives said.

“It was really putting up a lot of smoke,” wildfire mitigation specialist Annaleasa Winter said. “It has the potential to smoke and burn quite a bit more.”

That fire is only 15 percent contained and is in a 3,000-acre swamp that is difficult for firefighters to access, Winter said.

Held down by a low cloud ceiling, the haze drifted in Sunday morning over Jacksonville, said duty officer Jean Bowen of the Division of Forestry’s Jacksonville office. Because of the numerous fires in the area, prevailing winds could bring smoke from virtually any direction, she said.

“We’re surrounded by about a 50-mile radius of approximately 200,000 acres of fires burning,” Bowen said.

Smoke was thicker in some areas of town than in others, residents said Sunday.

It was visible over the St. Johns River from Memorial Park in Riverside. Ray Kleer, who was bicycling there Sunday afternoon with his son, Blaine, 14, said it didn’t take long to get used to it, however.

“I noticed it a little bit at first when we first took off. Inside, you don’t smell it,” he said.

Doreen Gray of Argyle was at the Jacksonville Zoo on Sunday afternoon and said the smoke wasn’t overwhelming there. But she said the smell of smoke had been strong lately at her job on Old St. Augustine Road and when she’s visited Green Cove Springs.

As of Sunday afternoon, there were about 60 active fires burning about 3,000 acres of forest land in St. Johns and Flagler counties, Bowen said. There were also 20 fires in Duval, Nassau and Clay counties; seven fires in the Lake City area; 46 in the Gainesville area; and, in Georgia, the Honey Prairie Fire in and around the Okefenokee Swamp and the nearly 8,800-acre Race Pond Fire south of Waycross.

All of the Northeast Florida fires are considered “contained” and not a threat to homes. Additionally, Winter said, all the fires are existing blazes and none were considered new as of Sunday.

But the smoke can be a health threat to those with respiratory conditions and an annoyance to just about everyone else.

“If you have health issues, you need to stay inside as much as possible,” Bowen said.

Liberty Pines Academy buses will pick up and drop off students at their normal stops today, but those in kindergarten through fifth grade will be taken to Creekside High School. Students in grades 6 through 8 will be bused to the Bartram Trail High School Ninth Grade Center, school officials stated in a release.

Parents may drop off students and pick them up at Creekside’s main entrance and the ninth grade center’s auditorium parking lot, though delays should be anticipated. Students will be able to buy hot lunches, and elementary school extended-day services will be available for registered users from 6:30 a.m. until 6 p.m.

For middle school students, extended-day services will be available from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the center.

Middle school students will be taking math final exams this morning. Makeup exams for other classes will be in the afternoon.

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