Fire near Florida Keys shuts down stretch of highway |

Fire near Florida Keys shuts down stretch of highway

MIAMI (AP) – A 2,000-acre fire fueled by persistent winds and dry grasses forced the closure Monday of an 18-mile stretch of U.S. 1, the main artery into the Florida Keys.

The stretch of two-lane highway between Florida City and Key Largo remained shut down Monday night. Traffic was diverted to another road that was also temporarily closed by fire, said Lt. Ernesto Duarte of the Florida Highway Patrol.

”The wind is very gusty and it’s making the fire spread quickly,” Duarte said.

Forestry officials said early reports suggested a campfire started the blaze. The fire was burning west toward the Everglades and did not threaten any buildings.

Another fire Monday had burned up to 500 acres in a prairie in the central part of the state. Firefighters were trying to contain the fire with air tankers to prevent it from spreading deeper into the 3,000-acre prairie, said Paul Palmiotto, a duty officer with the Florida Division of Forestry. No homes were immediately threatened.

Blazes in Sarasota and Charlotte counties in southwestern Florida had scorched more than 8,000 acres since Wednesday, including a 6,400-acre fire in Sarasota County that was 90 percent contained Monday, Palmiotto said.

Another fire in Charlotte County seared 1,700 acres of a wooded subdivision, destroying one home, damaging dozens of others and forcing the temporary evacuation of 100 families.

Charlotte County authorities were searching for one or more arsonists they believe set blazes that caused an estimated $1 million in damages.

Meanwhile, a 1,500-acre fire in Miami-Dade County near the Miccosukee Indian Reservation was contained Monday, Palmiotto said. Fire officials suspected the blaze was sparked by a hot tailpipe on an off-road vehicle.

Firefighters this year have battled 2,207 wildfires that have ravaged more than 171,500 acres throughout the state.

Meteorologists said it may be August before the state gets substantial relief from the three-year drought contributing to the wildfires.

On the Net:

Division of Forestry Fire and Forest Protection:

AP-WS-04-23-01 2016EDT

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