Brush fire burns on prairie next to U.S. 441

Firefighters with Alachua County Fire Rescue spray water on a brush fire at the south end of the Paynes Prairie Ecopass off US 441, in Gainesville Jan. 28, 2012.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, January 28, 2012 at 5:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 28, 2012 at 5:20 p.m.

A brush fire in Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park along U.S. 441 south of Gainesville has burned an estimated 40 acres and could possibly smolder overnight.

Park official Andi Christman said the blaze was reported about 2:45 p.m. Saturday and quickly spread in the parched prairie.

"We haven't had any rain of significance this year and half of last year. There is no standing water in the prairie basin," she said. "They have requested aerial support. With the prairie as dry as it is, it may not be possible to put out. It may be smoldering."

The fire was in the southeastern corner of the stretch of U.S. 411 that crosses the prairie. Crews from the Florida Forest Service and Alachua County Fire Rescue were at the scene.

An ACFR truck shot a plume of water onto the blaze from the road. Fire officials said they don't believe the fire will jump a wall from the prairie to the highway.

By Saturday night, the Forest Service had gotten heavy equipment into the prairie to plow a fire line. That contained the fire, though the orange glow of flames could be seen burning within the lines at various spots.

The fire in the open vista of the prairie became an attraction for passersby. Several people in cars and on bicycles stopped along U.S. 441 to watch the blaze and the efforts of firefighters.

Florida Forest Service officials have said this winter and spring has the potential to be a major wildfire season because of the dry conditions.

"Paynes Prairie is very dry, as are all prairies and swamps statewide," Forest Service spokeswoman Ludie Bond said. "We are asking everyone to use extreme caution while outdoors."

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