Fires close main highway into Florida Keys |

Fires close main highway into Florida Keys

The Associated Press

MIAMI (AP) – Lighter winds and a forecast of rain Tuesday cheered crews battling more than 60 fires across the state, including a 7,000-acre blaze that closed the main highway to the Florida Keys.

U.S. 1 remained closed and crews worked frantically to keep the fire from jumping into Everglades National Park. But winds had dropped and rain was likely beginning late Tuesday, a boon for this drought-stricken state.

”Statewide, we’re looking a little better right now,” said Jim Karels, the state forestry fire chief. ”The weather is moderating, giving (firefighters) a little break to catch up.”

As of Tuesday, 2,225 fires statewide have scorched 172,000 acres since Jan. 1.

”We’re above our yearly average for the whole year already,” Karels said.

Near Gainesville, a 300-acre grass fire sent a smoky haze into the city. The Alachua County Health Department issued an alert for people with respiratory illnesses.

Blazes in Sarasota and Charlotte counties in southwestern Florida have scorched more than 8,000 acres, but Karels said most of the fires burning in southwest Florida counties since last week were contained.

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