Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Wildfire in Nassau Shuts I-95 for Hours; Fresh Winds Expected to Stymie Fight in Region

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Wildfire in Nassau Shuts I-95 for Hours; Fresh Winds Expected to Stymie Fight in Region

Article excerpt

Byline: STEVE PATTERSON

Fire shut down Interstate 95 in northside Jacksonville for hours Sunday, and crews fighting woods blazes from Lake City to Waycross braced for wind that could fan the flames today.

"We're looking for things to change significantly," said Annaleasa Winter, a spokeswoman for the Florida Division of Forestry.

Portions of Interstate 10 and Interstate 75 near Lake City were also closed Sunday evening, after opening for several hours.

The Jacksonville fire, which burned throughout the day in a marsh near the Nassau County line, spread over about 500 acres but was at least 3 miles from any homes, authorities said.

Firetruck crews moved onto the interstate late in the day as winds pushed smoke and flames to the edge of the road. Forestry crews set a backfire to help strip away the fire's fuel, said Lt. Mike Peery, a spokesman for Jacksonville's fire department.

I-95 was closed from Interstate 295 and Florida 9A to Florida A1A west of Yulee. The highway had reopened in both directions by 9 p.m.

Around the region, emergency managers worried that changing weather could undercut their efforts to control fires that have scorched more than 500 square miles since last month.

Forecasters expect winds from the east to blow at about 20 mph in Jacksonville today, said Andrew Shashy, a National Weather Service meteorologist. Winds in Lake City could be in the 15-20 mph range, he said.

Worried those breezes would strengthen the flames, crews in Baker and Columbia County spent Sunday cutting enormous firebreaks 30 to 40 yards across, Winter said. Using heavy tractors with blades in front, they scooped away plants, then spun around and cut another line parallel to it, slowly carving out a wide gap in the woods.

Nearby, firefighters set small controlled burns to burn up plants before the main fire arrived. The goal: "make sure that it's black to the line," Winter said.

In Bradford County, a 15,000-acre fire that started a week ago was 80 percent contained, the most controlled of any fire in the region.

Crews there were cutting firebreaks about as wide as five tractors and hoping the flames don't spread today, emergency management director Brian Johns said. …

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