Area fire scorches 15 acres

Firefighters from four departments attempt to extinguish a 15-acre brush fire. The fire, which threatened to destroy five structures, took 45 minutes to contain.

DARON DEAN/Special to the Sun
Published: Sunday, January 12, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 12, 2003 at 1:35 a.m.

An out-of-control trash fire nearly torched a home and barn in northwestern Alachua County on Saturday, setting 15 acres of brush ablaze and threatening three other structures in the immediate area, an Alachua County Fire Rescue spokesman said.

Three county fire departments and the state Division of Forestry responded to the fire at about 3:30 p.m. southeast of High Springs after area residents reported smoke and flames encroaching on their properties.

"I went on my back porch, saw the fire and called the fire department," said Ronnie Boles, 52, whose barn was nearly engulfed in flames. "It came up to the roof of my pool barn, but the boys put it out."

Late Saturday afternoon, county officials confirmed that the blaze had started after sparks from a burn inside a barrel on Boles' property escaped. Strong west-to-east winds had pushed the flames away from Boles' house across the adjacent field, where firefighters stopped the flames before they crossed a stand of pines, just a few feet from the walls of a nearby mobile home.

Fire officials could not confirm who had started the blaze.

By 4:30 p.m., the departments had contained the fire within the charred perimeter and focused their attention on the remaining flames that had consumed a row of hay bales in the western reaches of the blaze.

"It's not every day you come home and there are firetrucks all over the place," said Vianne Sloat, who pulled into her driveway Saturday afternoon to find firefighters battling an inferno just feet from her home.

"All I was thinking is the dog in the house, is the cat in the house - is there a house?"

Justin Lagotic, Alachua County Fire Rescue spokesman, said forestry officials will continue to investigate the cause of the fire. Although there is currently no countywide burn ban in effect, fines could be imposed if investigators determine the blaze was the result of negligence, such as unsupervised trash or brush burning, he said.

Jeff Tabor, a DOF duty officer in Gainesville, said while specifics of the fire remain unclear, large brush fires are often the result of careless burning.

"Pay attention," Tabor said. "I don't know how many times people are told they need to pay attention."

Permits are not necessary for burning yard trash in Alachua County, Tabor said, but in instances when burning rules are broken, such as failing to cover barrel fires with wire mesh, or leaving fires unattended, fines can be levied. In addition, responsible parties can be required to pay suppression costs, often totaling thousands of dollars, Tabor said.

Saturday's fire, the largest brush blaze of this year's fire season, wasn't entirely unexpected. On Friday, county officials warned area residents to take precautions when burning trash and yard waste. Despite recent rains, conditions for brush fires are ripe, Lagotic said.

For example, eight frosts since Dec. 1 have killed vegetation and grasses in county forests and pasture lands, increasing the availability of dry, readily available fuels. Accidental sparks from yard or trash burning can quickly spread during winter months, when low humidity and high winds lend to rapid fire dispersion, Lagotic said.

Firefighters with the Newberry and High Springs fire departments, Alachua County Fire Rescue and the Division of Forestry responded to the blaze.

Greg Bruno can be reached at 374-5026 or

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