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Crews battle to keep 995-acre wildfire from jumping lines in Baker County

Fire not threatening structures, 80% contained, officials say

BAKER COUNTY, Fla. – A 995-acre brush fire burning in the Osceola National Forest in Baker County is about 80 percent contained, according to the Florida Forest Service.

The fire, located several miles south of the community of Taylor, is not threatening any structures, Florida Forest Service spokeswoman Annaleasa Winter said.

Winter said Forest Service firefighters are back burning about 105 acres to try to contain the fire, which started July 12 from a lightning strike in the Big Gum Swamp Wilderness area.

“So far, they've been pretty fortunate, keeping it under 1,000 acres, but that could definitely change if we don't get some rain soon," Winter said.

Fire officials said one of the big concerns that they are trying to prevent is the fire jumping containment and moving across County Road 250.

The back burning takes away fuel for the fire.

"What's happening is the swamps that weren't dry originally and didn't burn have now dried out. The brown needles that were scorched from the original fire are falling on the hot ashes and creating a re-burn effect," Winter said. "There is some unburned fuel in some areas that were still kind of wet that they were not able to burn out. So we are going back in today to make sure all of that has been charred and blackened."

She said the firefighters work 14 day shifts battling the fire before taking a couple days off.

“They have to stay hydrated. They have to get rest. But they've really been doing well," Winter said. “They've had good success but the temperatures are really brutal.”

The fire had been well contained, but on Wednesday, the re-burn jumped past containment to some unburned areas. Winter said when the wind starts blowing the re-burn areas it can create a substantial wall of flames running at the fire line.

"It's pretty late in the season for seeing this kind of fire activity and low relative humidity for some of the challenges that we are facing out here, so it's pretty unusual," Winter said. "We are looking forward to getting some rain and ending this."

Even with a couple of inches of rain, heat can stay underneath the surface and reignite the fire when it dries out. 

"You might have 12 inches of partially decomposed organic material, or duff, in the swamp areas," Winter said. "And it's just going to smoke and smolder and continue to burn underground. You could have an inch or two of rain, and it's still hot underground. Once that dries up, the fire will come back to the surface and wind will cause it to run again."

Winter said the fire is several miles north of Interstate 10 but smoke might affect traffic on Country Road 250. Officials urge drivers in the area to slow down and use extra caution, particularly at night, because of that smoke.

Winter said the fire is one of 12 active wildfires currently burning on 1,083 acres in Northeast Florida.

The current Florida Forest Service wildfire map can be found here.