125 Miles of I-95 Still Shut Down

By Sweeney, Kathleen | The Florida Times Union, July 4, 1998 | Go to article overview

125 Miles of I-95 Still Shut Down


Sweeney, Kathleen, The Florida Times Union


As three fires devoured Flagler County yesterday, police

stations and jails emptied, nursing homes and hospitals moved

patients, an oceanarium shut down and 40,000 residents fled.

Only firefighters were left to battle the flames -- 5,000

degrees at the head of the storms -- but they, too, waited for

the word to retreat to a safe location.

Hundreds of wildfires continued to burn along the First Coast

yesterday, jumping roads, threatening homes and businesses, and

displacing at least 112,000 people in three counties. More than

125 miles of Interstate 95 remained closed, parts of U.S. 1 were

shut down and several other roads were blocked.

The worst came when three fires consumed more than 40,000 acres

of north Flagler near I-95 and U.S. 1. The blazes burned through

neighboring towns of Bunnell and Palm Coast. About 40 homes were

destroyed, mostly in the Matanzas Woods, Indian Trails and Palm

Harbor communities, all in the Palm Coast area.

Residents fled south to Orlando, west to Palatka and north to

Jacksonville and Clay County.

It's the first time officials ordered the evacuation of an

entire county for wildfires, and, at one point, they were

preparing to tell firefighters in Flagler to give up the fight

and fall back to safe zones.

"This naturally occurring event has overtaken our ability to

stop its progression," said Craig Fugate, chief of preparedness

and response for the state Division of Emergency Management in

Tallahassee. "The only thing that can stop this is if the wind

shifts. All they can hope for is nature to take its course."

Thirteen Air Force C-5 Galaxies, the world's second-largest

transport plane, were expected to arrive in Jacksonville from

California as early as last night to fight the statewide

blazes. The planes carry 65 fire trucks and 265 firefighters

from San Bernardino and Redding, said Miriam Lareau, public

affairs deputy at Jacksonville Naval Air Station.

As they arrive and more National Guard members land in Brevard

County, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced it was

giving Flagler, St. Johns, Volusia, Brevard and Seminole

counties more aid.

At least 1,904 wildfires have burned more than 452,876 acres

and damaged or destroyed more than 150 homes in Florida since

May 25. The cost of fighting the fires has climbed to more than

$106 million, and so far, about 55 people have been injured. No

deaths have been reported.

About 40 shelters were open around North and Central Florida

last night. There were 847 people in the shelters, but those

numbers were expected to increase.

Of the few fires burning in Duval County, the largest was in

the Dee Dot Timberlands tree farm, owned by the Davis family of

Winn-Dixie fame.

That fire covered about 450 acres and was not contained last

night, said Sue Preece, a spokeswoman for the Florida Division

of Forestry.

The fire was in the northern tip of the 55,000-acre farm, about

5 miles south of Butler Boulevard and 5 miles west of the

Intracoastal Waterway, said Barry Pierce, a security officer for

the property.

The fire was not threatening homes, Preece said, but heavy

smoke was visible for miles. The forestry division said four

aircraft were dropping chemicals on the blaze.

In Volusia County, fires continued to burn after thousands of

residents were evacuated earlier this week.

To the south, fires were quieting down yesterday in Brevard

County where firefighters continued to battle five large blazes. …

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