Fla. Fire Situation Critical, 2 Neighborhoods Evacuated

May 9, 2007

Further evacuations were ordered Monday in windy, parched Florida as a wildfire crept within a quarter-mile of several homes.

Residents in at least two areas of the state were ordered to leave, and hundreds more were on standby. Gov. Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency last week.

The second evacuation Monday sprung up quickly as a fire roared out of control near the Wekiva River in Lake County, county spokesman Chris Patton said. It was not immediately known how many homes were affected.

Earlier Monday, about 20 homes near Freeport in Walton County in the Panhandle were evacuated as a 300-acre fire threatened the neighborhood, said Jim Harrell, a spokesman for the state Division of Forestry.

Officials say conditions across the state are critical, with humidity at dangerously low levels inland and winds gusting over 20 mph.

“It’s getting interesting and I don’t think it’s going to get better soon,” state Emergency Management Director Craig Fugate said.

Causing the most concern was a 6,100-acre fire about 4 miles west of Ormond Beach on Florida’s east coast.

Harrell said tankers were dropping retardant in an area between that fire and a subdivision called Rima Ridge, hoping to keep the blaze away from homes.

“They’re ready for evacuation on short notice, but so far they’re still in their homes,” Harrell said.

Firefighters were also working another large fire, covering almost 900 acres between Eustis and DeLand in central Florida.

In all, there were almost 200 separate fires burning Monday in Florida, covering about 19,000 acres. Nearly 50 of those started Sunday, about half of them caused by lightning from a line of thunderstorms that moved through the state too quickly to soak out the blazes, Harrell said.

So far, no injuries have been reported in any of the fires.

Associated Press Writer Travis Reed in Orlando, Fla. contributed to this report.

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