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Smoke from Georgia-Florida Fires Close Highways
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Smoke from Georgia-Florida Fires Close Highways

U.S.

JACKI LYDEN, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Debbie Elliott is on assignment.

In California today, a wildfire has burned more than 4,200 hundred acres on California's Santa Catalina Island. Firefighters have contained more than 40 percent of the blaze, and authorities have allowed residents to return to their homes on most of the island. But they've barred tourists on what was supposed to be a busy Mother's Day weekend.

About 3,000 miles away, another wildfire has been burning along the Georgia-Florida state line, producing thick clouds of smoke and low visibility. Sections of Interstates 10 and 75 were shut down after multiple accidents were caused by drivers disoriented by the smoke.

For more on the wildfires there, we turn to Troy Roberts of the Lake City Reporter. He's in Lake City. Hello, Troy Roberts. What's been going on today on the interstates?

Mr. TROY ROBERTS (Correspondent, Lake City Reporter): This morning, we had a number of wrecks. Right before 10 o'clock, we had four, I believe, within about five or 10-minute span. After that, Florida highway patrol went ahead and decided to close both interstates just because visibility was almost at zero. And they were concern for motorists and their troopers and decided that was the best decision.

LYDEN: Now, fires have been a problem for how long? Can you tell us more about the source?

Mr. ROBERTS: In the county, we have had fires since Thursday night. The fire originally began last week in Okeefenokee after a lightning strike.

LYDEN: Okefenokee Swamp, of course.

Mr. ROBERTS: That is correct. It moved down into Branford County and moved south. And from there, Thursday night, it moved into Columbia County, and has been burning since Thursday night.

LYDEN: Now we've been hearing that yesterday some 500 families were evacuated from their homes in Florida's Columbia County. Do you have any sense of when they might be allowed to return home?

Mr. ROBERTS: We've been told several things and it really just depends on the weather here. I believe there's 566 hundred people that had been evacuated north of Lake City, just north of Interstate 10 as well. And we've been told that they could return home as early as tomorrow. It could be later on the week and it really just depends the wind and if we get any rain in here in the next few days.

LYDEN: I understand that weather conditions have hampered efforts to put the fire out.

Mr. ROBERTS: That's correct. With all the smoke, we have an air right now that calls back humidity and a lack of rain and wind. Helicopters haven't been able to go up and exactly figure out where the fire is, and we're having to use a lot of other(ph) methods message to find out where that is. And also we do have airport that has been stationed to us, some tankers, tanker planes that drop water on the fires but it's unfortunate we weren't able to get us off the ground because of the high level smoke.

LYDEN: So, how furiously are the fires burning now? Any predictions about when they might be contained?

Mr. ROBERTS: We're hoping as soon as possible. We're on - firefighters aren't exactly sure. It has gotten a little bit better since Thursday. I believe Thursday they burned about nine miles in the northern Columbia County. Thankfully, the wind shifted and the fires are pretty much laid low since then, and they moved a couple of miles since then. And actually, it's back up on two miles. Now, it's about eight miles north of Interstate 10. And yesterday, that was six miles north.

LYDEN: Well, thank you very much for speaking with us.

Mr. ROBERTS: Thank you.

LYDEN: Troy Roberts is with the Lake City Reporter in Lake City, Florida.

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