Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

TROUBLE BLOWS IN; Winds Kick Up Damaging Surf on the Coast, Drive Inland Wildfires FIRES: Flames Flared in Several Spots across North Florida, Causing Evacuations

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

TROUBLE BLOWS IN; Winds Kick Up Damaging Surf on the Coast, Drive Inland Wildfires FIRES: Flames Flared in Several Spots across North Florida, Causing Evacuations

Article excerpt

Byline: JIM SCHOETTLER and DAVID HUNT

Firefighters continued battling windswept wildfires in Bradford and Baker counties Tuesday night that caused the evacuation of more than 1,000 people, shut down one small town, closed at least two schools and left detours around numerous roads.

A large wildfire started last week at the Flagler and Volusia County border and several smaller weekend fires in the same counties continued to burn, but no evacuations were ordered.

Winds that have gusted as high as 30 to 35 mph in the area over the past few days are expected to continue this morning and begin tapering off later in the day, said an official with the National Weather Service. There is a 30 percent to 40 percent chance of rain in parts of Northeast Florida, with heavier amounts at the coast.

Annaleasa Winter, a wildfire mitigation specialist for the state Division of Forestry, said firefighters are praying for sustained rains and worried about continued winds.

"The winds have been shifting around and have been unpredictable, therefore the fire behavior is unpredictable," Winter said.

The 16,000 acres burned in Bradford, 6,800 acres in Flagler and at least 500 acres in Baker were among the 43,000 acres burned in 210 wildfires statewide, Gov. Charlie Crist said Tuesday.

State officials ordered all homeowners Tuesday to stop burning yard waste. Crist had already declared a state of emergency because of the wildfire danger.

A fire likely started by a lightning strike Saturday in the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia moved quickly south into Florida on Tuesday morning and crossed Florida 2, threatening the one-store town of Taylor by afternoon, Baker County officials said.

Sheriff Joey Dobson said residents of 150 to 200 homes left under a mandatory evacuation.

Dobson said the fire had been burning about 7 to 10 miles west of Taylor in the morning but turned more to the east by afternoon, causing authorities to worry that it might directly threaten the small town.

Dobson said the fire was several miles from Taylor on Tuesday night and had begun making its way around the town as firefighters set backburns and plowed fire lines.

At about 11 p.m., he said the town still remained in some danger and under evacuation, while firefighters feared other homes may also be threatened as the winds pushed the fire south. One area he said may face problems is the Sanderson community.

"This is a dangerous fire," Dobson said.

County Emergency Management Director Adam Faircloth said the fire had burned about 500 acres in Baker County.

"It looks like the fire has turned for the worst," Dobson said. "We were hoping it would stay west."

Dobson said officials hoped the fire would burn into the John Bethea State Forest rather than damage houses. Dobson said he didn't know how many people had been evacuated from the Taylor area. …

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