BRYCEVILLE, Fla. – A wildfire that began with a Nassau County resident illegally burning a box of books Wednesday afternoon blew up into a fire that consumed nearly 700 acres near Bryceville, burned more than 20 structures and forced 150 people from their homes.
The wife of the man who started the fire called 911 to report that the fire got away from him.
"It's burning everything. He can't get the hose to reach. Oh my God. It's burning down dead grass toward other people," the woman told the 911 operator. "He shouldn't have been doing what he was doing. The damn woods are on fire, now."
Early Thursday afternoon, officials said the fire was still 65 percent contained, but firefighters said they had no timetable for when evacuated residents would be able to return to their homes because the fire had damaged some of the county's infrastructure, including power lines.
"We're asking the public to be patient with us," Nassau County Fire Battalion Chief Mike Eddins said. "Once we get those preliminary damage assessments completed, then we'll try to make a determination of when we can let people back into their homes."
Nassau County officials said the fire began about 2 p.m. Wednesday after a man was burning paperback books at a home on Wills Lane near Garfield Road.
The family, that had apparently just moved into a home on Wills Lane near Garfield Road, was cited for violating a state statute banning burning of household waste, and they will receive a "hefty" bill for the cost of fighting the fire.
"This was not malicious intent," Winter said. "They feel absolutely devastated; very remorseful."
They could also be fined and be sued by homeowners for the loss of their homes and property.
"I don't think hating that person is going to help anything. He thought he could burn some stuff, and it got out of hand," said Jessica Fouraker, who was forced to evacuate her home near DB Hicks Road. "The best I can do is to pray for him and his family and the journey they have from there."
News4Jax went to the house where officials said the wildfire started. It was intact and undamaged by the fire.
"I think people need to be a lot more careful in what they do. When the winds are like they were yesterday, there's a lot more you got to look at beside burning trash. I hate it that all the people and some of the people I know, including us, could have lost everything we have," said James Allen, a Bryceville resident whose home was spared by the fire.
For more information about the status of the fire, shelters and road closures, call the hotline at 904-548-0900.