Brush fires char 50 acres in Gilchrist


Published: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Firefighters from four counties battled two brush fires in Gilchrist County that burned nearly 50 acres, destroyed three mobile homes and sent one resident to the hospital Wednesday afternoon.

Ben Beauchamp, the forest area supervisor with the Division of Forestry in Levy County, said the fires were both located in northeast Gilchrist County near the Alachua County line and were only a few miles apart.

The first fire started around 2 p.m. and burned about four acres, he said. It destroyed three mobile homes that were connected together, as well as a nearby structure that forestry officials were calling an apartment.

A resident of the mobile homes was transported to Shands at the University of Florida after suffering minor burns to the face and inhaling superheated gases, according to Ludie Ehlers with the Division of Forestry.

The four-acre fire was contained by 6 p.m., Beauchamp said.

The second fire started later Tuesday afternoon and spread to about 40 acres, Beauchamp said. No structures were threatened by the larger fire, and Beauchamp expected the fire to be contained by about 9 p.m. Wednesday.

"We're thinking the second fire, the larger fire, was from a controlled burn (Tuesday)," Beauchamp said, though he did not know who conducted the burn.

Upwards of 40 firefighters from a variety of agencies fought the blazes for several hours Wednesday afternoon. Included in the response were firefighters from departments in Old Town, Columbia County, Alachua County, Gilchrist County, Fanning Springs, High Springs, Spring Ridge, Trenton, Newberry, as well as forestry officials from Gilchrist and Alachua counties.

Along with the firefighters and various fire trucks, a helicopter was used to drop water on the fires and an airplane provided surveillance for the area to make sure everything was under control, Beauchamp said.

Ehlers said the spring fire season started a little early this year due to the low humidity, gusting winds and the hard freezes in the area recently, but Wednesday's fires were unusual.

"Normally we do not see fires back to back in such close proximity," she said. "But one of the things that has helped us keep our fire sizes down to a minimum is quick response time from cooperating firefighting agencies."

Alice Wallace can be reached at 338-3109 or alice.wallace@gvillesun.com

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