Firefighters gain ground against 600-acre wildfire

Smoke, spot-overs from Yellow Bluff Fire forced I-95 to close for 19 hours

By Brittany Jones - Reporter, Brittany Muller - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The wildfire has disrupted life in northern Jacksonville and Nassau County since Wednesday afternoon and has spread across 608 acres, but dozens of Florida Forest Service and Jacksonville Fire-Rescue personnel, aided by bulldozers and helicopter water drops, had increased containment to 60% by Saturday night.

Smoke has died down from previous days.

Crews worked through the night to make sure they keep a close eye on the fire. Fire trucks and their equipment are still lining the road along I-95, and all of their work is helping.

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

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

About a quarter mile into the woods were 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 its 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 just over 600 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. Another update is expected around noon.

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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 fire to it, it burns across the top.”

According to Forestry Service's 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."

The Florida Department of Agriculture is assisting the Forest Service with the investigation into the cause.

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