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No End In Sight to Northeast Florida Wildfire Smoke
April 10, 2012
By Jim Schoettler, The Fla. Times-Union

Smoke from active and new wildfires will blanket parts of the First Coast for the foreseeable future because of dry conditions and no rain in sight, weather and fire officials said Monday.

Firefighters spent Monday still trying to contain six of 20 wildfires burning in Northeast Florida. The biggest fire, from a lightning strike last week, has burned nearly 12,000 acres of mostly forest land at the Columbia-Baker county line. That fire, which is about 30 percent contained, caused heavy smoke to drift into the Jacksonville area Monday as winds continued shifting.

Jacksonville's Neighborhoods Department issued an air quality advisory warning children, the elderly and those with breathing problems to stay inside or refrain from strenuous outdoor activity.

By late morning, smoke was filling Jacksonville's skies, just as Gov. Rick Scott was touring Jacksonville's Darnell-Cookman Middle/High School. Each time he would go outside headed to another classroom, the smoke around the school on North Davis Street was thicker, the smell heavier.

Asked if he was concerned about the state's resources to fight wildfires if the spring and summer fires get worse, Scott said he hopes there will be "a lot of rain, then have no hurricanes."

Scott reminded the public of the deaths of two firefighters last year while fighting a June wildfire in Hamilton County.

"We have to be careful and we have to be prepared for these wildfires," Scott said. "The state is dry right now, so we can all pray for rain. In the meantime we have to make sure everybody's cautious."

The area's second biggest fire -- 450 acres, 90 percent contained -- is burning in Putnam County. That's known as the 8-mile fire, south of Grebe Street and a mile west of Florida 19.

Two fires of 100 to 150 acres have been attacked by firefighters and state forestry crews in Clay County.

Those fires are on Crowl Road off U.S. 17 -- 50 percent contained -- and the 7000 block of Beauty Bush Lane -- 95 percent contained.

Causes of the fires range from an out-of-control camp fire to arson. Many were fueled by strong winds over the weekend and a lack of rain.

Meteorologist Dave Shuler said about 3.5 inches of rain has fallen in the region since Jan. 1, about 7.7 inches below normal.

Six of seven counties in Northeast Florida have drought levels above the normal range for spring, fire officials said.

Times-Union writer Dan Scanlan contributed to this report.

(c)2012 The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.), Distributed by MCT Information Services
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