Rainfall helps fend off wildfire

Published: Tuesday, June 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2004 at 12:29 a.m.


Rain brings brief break

  • Monday's late afternoon soaking lasted about 20 minutes and brought a brief break for the more than 100 firefighters who have been working in sweltering temperatures in Baker County.

  • Thunderstorms rolled through North Florida on Monday, dumping rain and helping firefighters who have been making headway against a Baker County forest fire that has burned almost 3,000 acres.
    The fire in the John Bethea State Forest north of Baxter did not grow during the holiday weekend and was 65 percent contained by late Monday.
    Fire lines also had been established along the entire perimeter of the 2,858-acre fire, Division of Forestry spokesman Gene Madden said.
    Around the state, firefighters were successful in containing two wildfires in Brevard and Lee counties Monday that burned about 1,450 acres.
    On Saturday, a fire near Florida Gulf Coast University had been 90 percent contained but later spread, fed by melaleucas, an exotic tree that has many oils and resin, forestry officials said. By late Monday, the fire was 50 percent contained.
    In Brevard County, some structures were threatened by a 250-acre wildfire in Palm Bay on Monday, but there were no reports of damage. Firefighters contained the blaze by surrounding it with fire lines, said Rick Strang, a forestry spokesman in Orlando.
    In Baker County, firefighters were shifting from "a dirt show" to "a water show," Madden said.
    "Now we are are shifting from tractor and plow work and putting more emphasis on water delivery to put out the hot spots," said Wayne Jones, incident commander for the Florida Interagency Incident Management Team.
    Monday's late afternoon soaking, which lasted about 20 minutes, brought only a brief break for the more than 100 firefighters who have been working in sweltering temperatures in Baker County.
    The temperature reached a high of 97 degrees at the blaze, firefighters reported.
    "It's just absolutely miserable working conditions," Madden said. "We're really stressing safety. We're pumping a lot of fluids into them. You could just imagine the sweltering conditions they're working in."
    No buildings have been damaged in the fire, which started on Wednesday, and no evacuations have been ordered, although preparations were put in place.
    State Road 2, which runs almost parallel to the Florida-Georgia border in Baker County, is expected to remain closed from Baxter to Fargo, Ga., through Friday because of emergency equipment traveling on the road.
    How the fire started remains under investigation.
    Weather conditions for the next few days are expected to remain the same - hot, dry and in the 90s, Madden said.
    "This high pressure front that's been over the state will continue to be the primary influence," he said.
    But the National Weather Service in Jacksonville is reporting a chance of showers through the week, ranging from 30 percent to 50 percent. That's compared to the zero chance of rain forecast last week.
    Madden said storms are expected to be widely scattered.
    "We're grateful for any rain," he said.
    However, strong winds and lightning that accompany storms could create problems such as knocking down dry branches and trees on firefighters, fanning flames or igniting new blazes.
    Work at the fire is far from over, Madden said.
    "We're going to be here several days."
    Elsewhere in Florida, two brush fires burned about 150 acres in St. Lucie County after damaging eight houses Saturday and forcing the evacuation of 40 others. Last week, mandatory burn bans were put in effect in Alachua, Clay and Union counties. Levy County enacted a voluntary ban.
    Lise Fisher can be reached at (352) 374-5092 or fisherl@gvillesun.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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