Florida wildfires: More than 100 fires burning, thousands evacuated

Posted at 2:24 PM, Apr 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-22 16:24:25-04

By Kelly McCleary, Nicole Chavez and Matt Rehbein


(CNN) — Thousands of Floridians are under mandatory evacuation orders as more than 115 wildfires scorch the state, the Florida Forest Service said Saturday.

Nearly 30,000 acres of the Sunshine State have burned, the Florida Forest Service said.

FEMA has approved two fire management assistance grants to aid the response in Polk and Lee Counties, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said.

“We are continuing to closely monitor these wildfires and do everything we can to ensure our firefighters and first responders have all the resources they need to protect our communities,” Scott said.

“As these wildfires continue, there are people who woke up this morning to find their homes destroyed and their lives completely changed,” Scott said. “This is an incredibly heartbreaking and challenging time, and I am encouraged to see our entire state working together to help one another.”

Southwest Florida

Thirteen homes in Lee County have been damaged or destroyed by a 400-acre wildfire, Scott said.

More than 2,000 homes are under a mandatory evacuation order in the county, which includes Fort Myers on the southern part of the Gulf Coast.

Further south in neighboring Collier County, a fire near the Golden Gate Estates section of Naples has grown to 5,500 acres, Scott said.

Mandatory evacuation zone includes more than 6,000 structures. Two trailers, two vehicles, and several outbuildings have been destroyed, according to the governor’s office.

Friday, the governor deployed the state’s National Guard, including five UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters, to help firefighters mitigate the massive wildfire, which started Thursday.

Central Florida

About 800 homes were evacuated in Indian Lake Estates, a golf and fishing community near Lakeland, state officials said.

The fire had burned about 700 acres and destroyed several structures by Saturday.

“We know people have pets at home. We know there’s a lot of valuable property inside the homes,” said Kevin Walter with the Polk County Fire Rescue. “The thing that will help our firefighters do their job is staying out of this area. That’s the main thing that needs to happen right now.”

The fire is the latest in “a series of suspicious fires here in the last two or three weeks,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told reporters.

Authorities have not determined what caused the fire, but they are offering a $5,000 reward for information about how the fire started.

“If someone is setting these fires, we will find out who they are and we will put them in jail. That’s a promise,” Judd said.

The number of arson wildfires across the state is up nearly 70% compared with this time last year, the Florida Forest Service said.

CNN’s Joe Sutton, Jamiel Lynch and Jeremy Ryan contributed to this report.

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