Wildfire smoke affects visibility on I-95

86-acre fire burning near Pecan Park Road affects visibility Tuesday morning


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Driving around town - you've probably noticed a lot of smoke during the early morning hours. 

Firefighters and state forestry services are monitoring six wildfires currently burning around Duval County. They were all sparked by lighting, and with limited rain, it's been difficult for authorities to completely extinguish them.

The largest brush fire covers 86 acres on the Northside just north of Pecan Park Road and east of Interstate 95.

Florida Forest Service crews worked Tuesday to improve the perimeter around that fire. They were hoping to knock it down and reduce some of the heavy smoke that has been causing visibility issues along I-95.

Forestry officials said the perimeter around the fire is secure but there were 10 acres of unburned fuel inside the perimeter, which caused the heavy smoke.

The canals and swampy conditions made it difficult for crews to actually get to the root of the brush fire and extinguish it, so tractors worked to form a fire line around the smoldering wildfire, which is contained but not controlled.

Forestry officials said lightning struck a portion of the wooded area, which sparked flames underground. Because the area hasn't had any consistent rain, the flames reached the surface and days later, the wildfire went from 2 acres to taking over nearly 100 acres. 

"May is really the peak of our 12-month wildfire season in Florida," Wildfire Mitigation Specialist Annaleasa Winter said. "So this time of year it's the end of the dry season, and we're starting to come into our wet season and what we'll typically see is a lot of dry lightning or lightning with minimal precipitation."

Winter, who works for Florida Forest Service, said this time of year, rain is not going to solve their problems, so they have a different plan.

Crews are working to remove the fuel from the fire, using heavy tractors to clear the remaining 10-acres of unburned vegetation in the contained perimeter.

Then the crews sweep the area to make sure fire doesn't spread.

Because of the isolated location, no structures are threatened, but officials are concerned about smoke affecting visibility on major roadways surrounding the fire, like I-95.?

"Hopefully we'll be able to enclose that containment around that 10 acres of unburned fuel so hopefully it doesn't have to burn out," Winter said. "And it won't produce more smoke and we can go ahead and extinguish the fire."

With most of their resources spent on fighting wildfires, Florida Forest Service officials have some tips to prevent man-made fires.

"If people are outside and they're doing barbecue grilling, just be very careful and soak your coals before dumping and use common sense and always have a hose nearby," Winter said.

Officials with the Florida Forest Service said drivers can expect to see the smoke in the area through the end of this week. It will be most noticeable through the overnight and early morning hours.?

Florida Highway Patrol troopers will continue to monitor the area, and drivers are encouraged to use caution when traveling in these areas.

FHP reminds drivers to reduce their speed as necessary to avoid a collision and use low-beam headlights to adapt to changing weather conditions. 

State forestry officials said a wildfire is considered active until it is completely out and cold with no smoking or smoldering. Until a fire is called out, it is carefully monitored by firefighters.