Firefighters are battling a massive brush fire in Collier County that has burned an estimated 7,500 acres and forced the evacuation of at least two mobile home parks and horse stables in the Picayune Strand State Forest.
The Caloosahatchee Forestry Center, which is responsible for wildfire prevention in Collier County, said the fire is 30 percent contained, but that parts of I-75 are still closed.
The fire started Sunday in the Picayune Strand State Forest and has spread west since then. The cause is still under investigation.
Gusty winds have stoked the fire. The National Weather Service in Miami said today the winds should slack some, but the direction will change to a westerly sea breeze off the Gulf of Mexico.
“We’ll have to closely watch the wind shift associated with the sea breeze as it affects not only the spread of the fire, but most importantly efforts to fight the fire,” forecasters wrote in an afternoon discussion.
As of 4 p.m., Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam reported that I-75 was still closed between mile marker 80 to mile marker 101 on both sides. Intermittent road closures on Collier Boulevard between Golden Gate and Rattlesnake Hammock are expected.
Putnam warned that the Collier fire is evidence that the state could experience an active wildfire season.
“Forecasts predict hotter and drier conditions than normal throughout the state in the coming months, and wildfires are anticipated to increase due to these conditions,” a press release notes. “Just today, there are more than 70 active wildfires in Florida.”
Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue has been putting out hot spots from a more than 60-acre burn in a wooded area east of Interstate I-95 and north of PGA Boulevard.
While overnight rains may have helped reduce parched coastal areas of the county, much of the western portion is still ranking high on the Keetch-Byram Drought Index.