Florida wildfires: Rain brings brief relief
(CNN) Scattered showers are giving an assist to firefighters battling wildfires in southwest Florida, but officials caution the threat isn’t over.
More than 115 wildfires were burning in the state as of Saturday morning, the Florida Forest Service said. Nearly 30,000 acres of the Sunshine State have been scorched.
Some mandatory evacuation orders have been lifted, but many residents still can’t return home.
The rain “is giving us a little bit of opportunity to get ahead,” Director of Collier County Bureau of Emergency Services Dan Summers said. But Summers cautioned that “doesn’t mean that we’re in the clear.”
“It takes an awful lot of water to put a fire out this big,” Summers said.
FEMA has approved two fire management assistance grants to aid the response in Polk and Lee counties, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said.
“We are continuing to closely monitor these wildfires and do everything we can to ensure our firefighters and first responders have all the resources they need to protect our communities,” Scott said.
“As these wildfires continue, there are people who woke up this morning to find their homes destroyed and their lives completely changed,” Scott said. “This is an incredibly heartbreaking and challenging time, and I am encouraged to see our entire state working together to help one another.”
Thirteen homes in Lee County have been damaged or destroyed by a 400-acre wildfire, Scott said.
More than 2,000 homes had been under a mandatory evacuation order in the county, which includes Fort Myers on the southern part of Florida’s Gulf Coast, but the order was lifted with the fire 95% contained by Saturday afternoon.
Further south in neighboring Collier County, firefighters were making progress on a 5,500-acre fire near the Golden Gate Estates section of Naples. ItIt was about 20% contained, Scott said.
The mandatory evacuation zone includes more than 6,000 structures. Flames have damaged or destroyed several vehicles and nine homes, the governor said.
Friday, the governor deployed the state’s National Guard, including five UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters, to help firefighters mitigate the massive wildfire, which started Thursday.
A 700-acre wildfire burning in Polk County was about 60% contained as of Saturday afternoon, Scott said.
The mandatory evacuation of about 800 homes in Indian Lake Estates, a golf and fishing community near Lakeland, had been lifted, state officials said.
Flames destroyed at least one business by Saturday.
The fire is the latest in “a series of suspicious fires here in the last two or three weeks,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told reporters.
Polk County Fire Rescue officials said they’re looking for an arsonist they suspect is connected to the fire, CNN affiliate WFTV reports.