JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A fire in a wooded area just off San Pablo Road on Thursday afternoon came within 100 feet of homes before firefighters, two of whom were treated for heat exhaustion, could beat it back.
Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department Chief Keith Powers said the brush fire was first reported about 2:30 p.m. and the wind was blowing it toward a neighborhood. The two firefighters who were overcome were among 55 firefighters who responded and positioned themselves between the approaching fire, which the Florida Highway Patrol said grew to five acres.
The Florida Forest Service had two tractors cutting fire breaks and a spotter plane in the air. JFRD was using a drone to guide fire commanders.
No homes were burned, but News4Jax heard from residents from the Pablo Bay neighborhood, on the west side of San Pablo Road and north of J. Turner Butler Boulevard, who were evacuated.
Robert Mcalister, who lives in the neighborhood, said he was working and was about to get on a conference call when he noticed the large plumes of smoke and began going door to door.
“It’s been so dry, the wind was just pushing this way right toward the home and my reaction was, well, at least I’ll let our neighbors know because a guy came up and he told us he dialed 911,” Mcalister said.
Sofia Pogue, who also lives in the neighborhood, said she was home alone when the chaos erupted.
“I heard a bunch of firetrucks and sirens going off," she said.
Little did she know, her mother, Kelly Pogue, was battling traffic and thick smoke as she tried to get home.
“It’s really scary,” Kelly Pogue said. “I didn’t know if the houses were on fire. I had no idea what was going on."
Sofia Pogue said she didn’t realize how serious it was until her mother made it home.
“That could’ve been us if I hadn’t looked outside and she didn’t come home and tell me. I had no idea. That was really scary, very scary,” she said.
Just after 5 p.m., the Forest Service said the fire was 80% contained. JFRD said a crew will be monitoring the fire overnight.
San Pablo Road reopened by early Thursday evening, though firefighters said smoke could linger and be a problem into Friday or even into the weekend, not only for the immediate area, but possibly even J. Turner Butler and Beach boulevards.
JFRD said Thursday night that the firefighters who suffered heat exhaustion were later released from the hospital and were resting at home.
Think what you do doesn’t matter? @SenRickScott called Chief Powers tonight to check on our 2 firefighters taken to the hospital today from the brush fire & how all the others were holding up... that means more to us then you’ll ever know sir!! Thank you! @CityofJax @lennycurry— MyJFRD (@JFRDJAX) May 22, 2020
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
The Forest Service said the area has not had rain for at least three weeks and the area affected has a lot of fuel because it hasn’t burned in years.
Duval County has a burn ban year-round, and firefighters asked residents to not do any outdoor burning, especially with the upcoming Memorial Day weekend when people are known to shoot off fireworks.