Firefighters thought they'd turned the corner on a 3,000-acre wildfire burning in Baker County since Wednesday. But dry, windy conditions gave the fire renewed energy early Friday -- frustrating those battling the blaze and scaring homeowners nearby.
Forestry officials said the flames jumped containment lines and over State Road 2 just west of County Road 127.
"Potential for it to get out is always there when you have these conditions," Todd Brown, of the Division of Forestry, told Channel 4's Hetal Gandhi Friday. "We'll probably be on pins and needles for a while now, until we get some weather changes."
Forestry officials said Saturday morning the fire was 15 10 percent contained.
While no homes were in immediate danger, fire had come within a mile of the Moccasin Creek community. About 40 residents were told to be prepared to leave on short notice.
Two churches were opened as shelters in case evacuations were ordered.
"You're smelling smoke as soon as you wake up, you go to sleep smelling smoke -- you don't know when it's going to happen, you're going to have to leave or what" resident Valenci Pineda said.
More than 100 county, state and federal firefighters, 34 tractors and other heavy equipment, and three helicopters were all involved in fighting the fire Friday.
Officials are worried the same conditions that fed these flames -- relative humidities below 35 percent and dry, west to southwesterly winds gusting to 25 mph -- will cause other problems around northeast Florida. The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning for Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Clay, Columbia, Duval, Flagler, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Marion, Nassau, Putnam, St. Johns, Suwannee and Union counties.
A burn ban continues in Baker, Nassau, Bradford counties, and on Friday both Clay and Alachua counties declared mandatory burn bans.
Channel 4 meteorologist John Gaughan said Friday on the morning show that there has been no rainfall in northeast Florida for 24 days, and that fire danger throughout the area is extremely high.
Jacksonville Fire-Rescue said it is now at Level 3 response on brushfires, meaning the number of units dispatched to outdoor fire calls is being doubled.
The Baker County fire began in the Bethea State Forest in northern Baker County, and spread to the Osceola National Forest within hours. Forestry officials say the blaze is being investigated as a possible arson.
An investigator from the Florida Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement was helping determine the cause of the blaze. Officials say there were no prescribed burns in the area, and no recent lightning strikes, leaving arson as a possible cause.
- May 27, 2004: Baker County May Face Evacuation