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Florida Firefighters Hope for Break in the Weather

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Florida Firefighters Hope for Break in the Weather


Florida Firefighters Hope for Break in the Weather

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Firefighters and residents near the north Florida town of Lake City hope a cold front today brings more rain than wind. That would allow them to get an edge on a wildfire called Bugaboo, named after the island in a South Georgia swamp where it started. It's now burned more than 100,000 acres, forced the evacuation of hundreds of people, and shut down two interstate highways.

From member station WUFT, Kevin Allen reports.

KEVIN ALLEN: The Bugaboo fire started as a lighting strike more than a week ago. But it was not until Thursday night when the fire tripled in size that it jolted firefighters and residents into paying very close attention.

Annaleesa Winter is a spokeswoman for the Florida Division of Forestry.

Ms. ANNALEESA WINTER (Spokeswoman, Florida Division of Forestry): When you get that large of a fire that's moving that quickly, you know, it really creates a huge towering column of smoke, fire branch shooting up into the air landing miles in front of it, starting new fires that then merge together, and everything in between these fires as they merge will just be absolutely devastated.

ALLEN: While the fire slowed to a crawl over the weekend, the smokes spread so thickly it forced the shutdown of two interstates and reduced visibility in nearby Lake City to yards. It still remained for many Lake City residents scary.

Claire Garcia(ph) watched as the smoke settled over the town so thick it almost cut off the sun.

Ms. CLAIRE GARCIA (Resident, Lake City): And it got black around 3:30, you know, it was really spooky. Mm-hmm. And so we watered down our yard especially since the ashes were falling, we don't want to catch anything on fire.

ALLEN: Rose Johnson(ph) and her daughter, Haley, tried to balance dark humor and real concern as the smoke settled into town.

Ms. HALEY JOHNSON: She told everybody - all the teenagers that you better know where you're going, because this looks like the end of the world.

Ms. ROSE JOHNSON: Yeah. We've talked to quite a few and they're, like, they don't know, you know, if it's too close or it's not close enough, just give your a fair warning, that's all we ask for.

ALLEN: But what put residents on edge made firefighters breathe a little easier.

Unidentified Man #1: The three engines that's coming in…

Unidentified Man #2: Fours hours.

Unidentified Man #1: Four hours. We will set them up to (unintelligible) little brother.

ALLEN: At a staging area in the Osceola National Forest, firefighters like Larry Luckett(ph) took advantage of the very conditions that made the smokes so bad - high humidity and no wind - to plan ahead and beef up their firebreaks.

Mr. LARRY LUCKETT (Firefighter): And we're all looking the possibility of burnout if the conditions are right. We are doing some burning tonight so we can go ahead and consume those fuels inside our fire lines, so that eventually, we can let everybody get back in their houses and everybody can go back home.

ALLEN: But even after everyone is home, fire and forestry officials hope one aspect of this fire will remain, and that's the awareness of just how quickly wild fires can change and turn things upside down.

For NPR News, I'm Kevin Allen in Gainesville, Florida.

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