SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) -
The threat of wildfires continues across the sunshine state. The Florida Forest Service (FFS) continues battling a major wildfire in Collier County in Southwest Florida. While, there is currently no road closures, it is advised that motorists and residents remain clear of the area.
Two wildfires broke out on Wednesday May 13th in the Golden Gate community in central Collier County, Florida, west of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. These fires were aided by high winds and extremely low humidity and have grown to more than 8,500 acres. Due to their close proximity, the wildfires are now being reported as one fire, the ‘36th Ave SE Fire’. Crews have also responded to spot fires south of I-75 on the Picayune Strand State Forest.
"Here in South Florida we've been extremely busy with wildfires. Unfortunately, some of those large wildfires up in the panhandle and then down here locally people have lost their homes and lost their structures," say’s Ludie Bond, Public Information Officer with the Florida Forest Service.
The FFS is working in unified command with local fire and emergency responders, including the Greater Naples Fire Rescue, North Collier Fire Rescue, Marco Island Fire Rescue, Collier County Emergency Management, Collier County Sheriff’s Office and many others. Currently, the FFS has 16 tractor/plow units from around the state battling the blaze, along with 3 single engine air tankers, 1 fixed wing aircraft, and 4 helicopters, including the Collier County Sheriff’s Office Air Rescue 1, which is assisting with water drops. As of this 5:00 p.m. this afternoon, the wildfire is still now 40% contained.
This week alone the Myakka River District FFS has had to respond to six wildfires. They were able to spread rapidly as a result of strong winds. “The one from yesterday was 60 acres, and fortunately it burned into a previous burn there, so that slowed the forward motion down. That was caused by an illegal pile burn,” say’s Patrick Mahoney, Mitigation Specialist of the FFS Myakka River District.
Officials are asking Florida residents to abide by local burn bans, and to use extreme caution while performing any outdoor activities. You can determine if your county is in a burn ban by visiting https://www.fdacs.gov/Consumer-Resources/Health-and-Safety/Current-Wildfire-Conditions and clicking on the available burn ban map. “The majority of the fires that are occurring are human caused. A lot of that is carelessness, a lot of people don’t pay attention to the weather. So, burn bans when those go into effect it kind of encourages people not to burn, not to conduct outdoor activities that may throw a spark. One less spark means one less wildfire that our Florida wildland firefighters have to respond to; putting both themselves and the citizens of Florida at risk,” states Bond.
Scattered showers have returned for South Florida today, and while hit and miss showers are expected to bring some relief to impacted areas, the chance for isolated thunderstorms pose a risk for additional wildfires to occur. Mahoney say’s “Our biggest concern is that some of these showers will bring in lightning. So, if we don’t get a lot of rain, we could have several lightning strike fires.”