Crews continue to battle Marion wildfire
Published: Sunday, March 3, 2013 at 7:33 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 4, 2013 at 11:51 a.m.
UPDATE:State Road 19 in the Ocala National Forest is open to traffic once again.
The highway was closed this weekend because of the 1,900-acre brush fire. It re-opened just after 9:30 a.m. Monday.
Also of note: Federal spending cuts related to the sequester controversy in Washington D.C. had no effect on the U.S. Forest Service’s ability to respond to the fire. A spokeswoman said the agency had all of its resources, and will have them in the future should any emergency responses be necessary.
Original story below.
OCALA NATIONAL FOREST — Dianne Timko stood by Sunday as Marion County Fire Rescue workers quenched hot spots that were flaring up just feet from the back door of her home on Northeast 310 Avenue.
“They saved my home,” Timko said about the two-story house she calls her “sherbert house” because of its pastel colors. “I am blessed.”
Timko was in Fort Pierce on Saturday when she got a call from neighbors telling her that a 300-acre brush fire had started around 2 p.m. east of Hopkins Prairie in the Ocala National Forest and was threatening area homes.
“I cried all night last night. I didn't sleep thinking of what is in my house,” Timko said.
She was distressed that items her husband has built would be lost forever. “They were priceless,” she said.
On Sunday, about 100 firefighters were on the scene, and by 3 p.m. officials said the fire was 80 percent contained.
The blaze was being fanned by high winds and had spread on Saturday to 1,918 acres south of Salt Springs on both sides of State Road 19.
No lives were lost or injuries suffered except for one firefighter who cut his finger while trying to help move a resident's boat.
Not everyone was as fortunate as Timko. Fire officials on Sunday said the blaze has destroyed 24 structures — homes, hunt camps, sheds, recreational vehicles and mobile homes.
Residents evacuated homes in the area that stretched from Forest Road 54 to Forest Road 33 along SR 19, but some chose not to leave their homes. A shelter was opened at the Forest Assembly of God Church along State Road 40. The four people who stayed overnight at the shelter all had left by 6 a.m. Sunday, according to Marion County sheriff's Cpl. Ed Tillis.
Emergency workers from the U.S. Forest Service, the Florida Forest Service and Marion County Fire Rescue battled the fire through the night and continued their efforts Sunday. They cut fire breaks and doused hot spots in hopes of keeping the fire from spreading further as thick smoke enveloped the area, while overhead helicopters circled the area assessing the damage.
Evidence of their efforts could be seen as burned and charred remains of trees and underbrush stopped at the edge of countless homes, like Timko's. More than 100 structures were saved, said Ludie Bond, Florida Fire Service's wildfire mitigation specialist.
The Florida Highway Patrol was monitoring the area around SR 19 from Country Road 314 to SR 40 for smoke/fog visibility. Marion County deputies controlled traffic and closed that area of SR 19.
The fire spread along both sides of SR 19. On the west side, where the homes were lost, the fire raged from Northeast 90th Lane to 77th Street. On the east side, it spread from Northeast 90th Avenue to 84th.
“It's a pretty safe bet this is where the fire jumped,” Bond said, pointing to an area along SR 19, just south of Northeast 90th Avenue, where there was heavy smoke, and areas were still smoldering with small fire outbreaks.
“One of the objectives for the day for this fire is to keep it out of Hopkins Prairie,” Bond said.
With the prairie being so dry, with all the surface fuels or underbrush, it would burn, smoke and rekindle.
“We could be here next year working this fire,” she said, should the fire spread to the prairie.
Bond said Sunday that commanders will develop a plan for combating the fire based on weather conditions.
Residents, like Anthony and Christine Scheiva, were still trying to deal with the crisis on Sunday. They had evacuated their Northeast 306 Terrace home on Saturday.
“We didn't even know the forest was on fire,” Anthony Scheiva said until a Marion County sheriff's deputy came to their door and told them they had to leave.
“We threw everything in this car and left,” Scheiva said. “We could hear the crackling.”
The couple spent the night with friends. When they tried to return on Sunday morning, their back seat piled high with pillows and blankets, SR 19 was still closed and they were turned away. They called neighbors, who had not evacuated. The neighbors assured the Scheivas their home was safe.
Officials are hoping to be able to open the road Monday to all traffic.
Contact Susan Latham Carr at 867-4156 or firstname.lastname@example.org.