Firefighters make progress against Yellow Bluff wildfire

607.8-acre Yellow Bluff Fire 80% contained, Florida Forest Service says

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Yellow Bluff Fire has disrupted life in northern Jacksonville and Nassau County since May 22 and has spread across 607.8 acres, but is 80% contained, the Florida Forest Service said Wednesday.

Dozens of Forest Service and Jacksonville Fire-Rescue personnel, aided by bulldozers and helicopter water drops, continue to make progress with the Yellow Bluff Fire. 

As of Wednesday evening, according to the Forest Service, crews have made good progress mopping up hot spots on the fire edge and smoke impacts were minimal on I-95 and Highway 17.

There was another flare-up on Sunday with flames and smoke reaching trees just off Interstate 95. Fire crews quickly doused the flames with 15,000 gallons of water during mop-up operations. By the end of the day, only light smoke could be seen from I-95, Florida Forest Service reported.

A strike team of engines from forest rangers were brought in from across the state to help mop up the Yellow Bluff wildfire.

Firefighters have been in the woods putting water on the ground and trying to mitigate the smoke.

"We're still getting drier and drier by the day. We're not improving in that sense but we have favorable winds today (Sunday). We don't have the real hard east wind push that we had when this fire made its initial run," Senior Forest Ranger David Sechrist said.

Crews worked through the night to keep a close eye on the fire. Fire trucks and their equipment still line the highway along I-95. 

"We've got the dozers on the scene, we've got our type-6 engines our water support from the engines with a marsh master," said Mike Work, manager of the ForestService. 

Crews worked to secure the fire lines to stop any more flames from jumping I-95, as it did on Thursday afternoon forcing the highway to close for 19 hours.

Justin Young remembers how the detours impacted his neighborhood.

"I literally have seen people park their cars over here and walked back here to the neighborhood," Young said. 

About a quarter mile into the woods was burned trees and ashes covering the ground.

As smoked billowed along the highway, crews on the ground used hoses as the helicopter dropped water from above trying to keep it contained. 

"This piece to the north is the hottest part of the fire. Some of it is creeping out to 95 still and there's un-burned green pockets in there that are burning out," Work said. 

So far, the Florida Forestry Service says the fire is holding at 607.8 acres, but there's one thing needed more than ever.

"Rain," Work said. "Yeah, we need some rain."

Officials said thankfully there have been no evacuations because of the fire or smoke.  

VIEW: Interactive traffic map and DOT cams
IMAGES: Wildfire burning near Nassau-Duval County line

Smoke concerns

The FHP continues to monitor conditions in the area and warned drivers that visibility may deteriorate quickly due to fog and smoke-type conditions. Drivers are urged to slow down, use caution and turn on low-beam headlights.

"If you come into an area of low visibility -- whether it’s fog, smoke or something like that -- the rules of the road still apply. You’ve got to maintain proper control of your vehicle, be observant while driving, reduce your speed and utilize your headlights and just drive as safe as possible," Bryan said. "Absolutely (turn your headlights on) because visibility is reduced. Not only can you see a little bit better, everybody else can see you, as well. With that being said, we use low-beam headlights. We don’t use emergency flashers when the vehicle is in motion. So utilize low-beam headlights and drive cautiously through the area."

Not only is the smoke a concern for drivers, but it's also a concern for those who live near the area where the wildfire started.

The National Weather Service Jacksonville said smoke, worse at night, can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases.

What we know about the Yellow Bluff Fire

The Yellow Bluff Fire began as two separate fires on Wednesday afternoon, and spot-overs increased the size of the fire as it moved west toward I-95 and jumped the highway. West of the highway is more wilderness area -- the Seton Creek Preserve and the Four Creeks Wildlife Management Area. Though most of it is considered to be marsh and swamplands, it's not wet enough to keep from catching fire.

“What was holding water two months ago is not holding water on the surface, so those surface fuels are now exposed. They have been curing under the sun -- the hot, dry sun. Low humidity cures it all," Work said. "Then once you get a fire to it, it burns across the top.”

According to Forestry Service spokesperson Annaleasa Winter, the fires appeared to have started Wednesday afternoon near the train tracks that run parallel to Main Street, but it was too early to determine whether the fires were started by sparks from a moving train.

"It could have been something thrown out of the train. It could have been exhaust. Sometimes, it is the catalytic converter. Sometimes it’s the friction from the brakes,"  Winter said. "This time of year, we are going to see more human-caused fires, but people need to be very careful."