40-acre brush fire east of Yulee 100% contained

Residents return home after passing train sparks blaze, forestry officials say

By Jim Piggott - Reporter, Erik Avanier - Reporter

YULEE, Fla. - A wind-blown brush fire sparked Friday afternoon by a passing train in Nassau County burned 40 acres and forced residents to evacuate, according to the Florida Forest Service. 

Just a couple hours after residents were allowed to return home and roads began to reopen, forestry officials announced about 9 p.m. that the blaze was 100 percent contained. 

Annaleasa Winter of the Florida Forest Service said the fire started along the train tracks crossing Barnwell Road, just east of Yulee.

WATCH: Sky 4 surveys 40 acres burned in brush fire

A passing train caused a spark, which quickly turned into a 40-acre brush fire that spread to within 50 feet of seven to 10 Nassau County homes before firefighters could stop the advance of the flames, Winter said.

Deputies went door to door, asking residents in the Oneil area to leave about 3:20 p.m. as local firefighters and state forestry personnel began to battle the blaze along Barnwell and Oneil-Scott roads, just north of State Road 200/A1A, near the Lowe's Home Improvement store between Yulee and Fernandina Beach.

"All you see up in the air is nothing but smoke," said resident Michelle Williams. "I was driving on the side of the road trying to hurry up to get back here to family."

Mykita Jones was at work when she heard her home and her neighbors' homes were in danger. She said she first thought co-workers were playing a joke when they told her about it the fire, but she realized it was no joke when she saw the news reports on Facebook. 

"Then all of a sudden I see 'Barnwell-Oneil area' and said, 'I have family back there.' And I rushed here from work," Jones said. "I saw the smoke from A1A coming this way and I was panicking."

IMAGES: Yulee brush fire

Forestry officials said the blaze spread quickly due to the dry conditions combined with  winds that News4Jax meteorologist John Gaughan said were gusting to 38 mph by mid-afternoon.

By 5 p.m., Annaleasa Winter of the Florida Forest Service said the fire had burned nearly 38 acres, but a containment line was completed around the fire. Even though the fire had jumped the containment line once, "it's looking really good right now," Winter said.

The Florida Forest Service had several tractors, air support and a supervisor at the scene and Jacksonville Fire and Rescue dispatched about a dozen units to help Nassau County firefighters contain the flames and extinguish hot spots. 

Winter said because most of the area burning contained marsh grass, the fire should burn itself out now that it's 100 percent contained. Forestry crews continued mopping up for another hour after it was fully contained.

No injuries were reported and no structures were damaged. 

The railroad company, which owns the train tracks and is responsible for cutting brush that grows to close, will be billed for the fire, according to Winter.

Friday's evacuation came just over a week after a wildfire burned 700 acres and destroyed two homes and more than a dozen other structures near Bryceville, in western Nassau County. On Friday, firefighters were keeping an eye on hotspots and dealing with flare-ups, and estimated that fire was 96 percent contained.

Resident forces his way past fire lines to save family dogs

Nassau County resident Johnathon Shell was working Friday afternoon at a nearby paper mill when he got a frantic call from his girlfriend. 

Johnathon Shell

WATCH: Yulee residents return home after brush fire

"She was at home, called me and said, 'The woods are on fire in the backyard.' So I rushed home and found out I couldn't get into the neighborhood," he said. 

When he arrived, Shell found that his girlfriend and their baby had been evacuated, but not the family's dogs.

"They wouldn't let me go into the neighborhood to get my dogs. So I had to force my way in there, then finally got them," Shell said. "Then they said, 'Get out of here.'"

Thanks to mutual aid from other fire departments, crews were able to get the blaze under control and evacuees, including Shell and his family, were able to go back home less than six hours after the brush fire started. 

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