Brush fires causing havoc

Residents gather on 20th Street SE in Golden Gate Estates on Wednesday afternoon to gauge the direction of a brush fire burning several blocks away. Tristan Spinski/Staff

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Residents gather on 20th Street SE in Golden Gate Estates on Wednesday afternoon to gauge the direction of a brush fire burning several blocks away. Tristan Spinski/Staff

— The brush fire that scorched 500 acres in Golden Gate Estates on Tuesday jumped the containment line established by fire fighters and spread to 1,769 acres Wednesday.

About 100 homes, including those along 14th Street Southeast and 16th Street Southeast, were threatened by the flames, but all were saved by the quick action of the Florida Division of Forestry and fire rescue districts from Collier and Lee counties.

Two vehicles were destroyed in the fire Wednesday, adding to the destruction of the trailer where Noriel Lopez, 65, was living.

The fire, which started about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, jumped its line around 2 p.m. Wednesday, Division of Forestry spokesman Victor Hill said. The fire was 35 percent contained as of 9 p.m. Wednesday, Hill said.

Dead vegetation that had not burned for two years in the field west of Everglades Boulevard and south of Golden Gate Boulevard was sparked by lightening to ignite the fire Tuesday. Wednesday’s flare-up was caused by wind gusts that pushed ashes from the smoldering fire northwest toward the homes and then slightly east, Hill said.

There was also an eight acre fire caused by power lines rubbing against trees that started near Santa Barbara Boulevard and Green Boulevard around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, but it was contained within a few hours, Hill said. On Tuesday, two other fires totaling 65 acres also burned in rural Collier County, one of them sending smoke over Interstate 75.

During the fire, homes on the south side of Golden Gate Boulevard from 4th Street Southeast to 22nd Street Southeast were under mandatory evacuation. The north side of Golden Gate Boulevard was under voluntary evacuations.

Golden Gate Boulevard was closed off from Wilson Boulevard to Everglades Boulevard, and wouldn’t re-open until about 7 p.m., causing a nearly one mile backup in its eastbound lane.

“A (fire rescue official) told me I had about three minutes to get out, because it was going to get really bad,” said Charlotte Hersom, who lives on 14th Street Southeast.

Hersom grabbed her three cats and four dogs, home ownership papers and left with her sister-in-law and her daughter.

“As I was leaving the house, all these fire trucks were coming in,” she said. “There were huge ash pieces coming over. It was just flying through the air.”

Hersom and her family went to Max Hasse park, which accepted displaced residents as the flames were fought. Hersom said only about a half dozen people came to the community center.

Responding to the fire were roughly 70 firefighters and dozens of tractors, brush trucks, water tankers and other vehicles. The Division of Forestry’s helicopter dumped water from the air and a Collier County Sheriff’s Office helicopter and Division of Forestry airplane helped locate the flare ups.

As the fire began spotting in between houses, fire rescue districts were waiting on the streets to meet the flames. Division of Forestry tractors cleared brush on either of the fire’s flanks to keep it from spreading in other directions, Hill said.

“The teamwork on this one is pretty amazing,” Hill said.

Craig Mitchell, 44, was at his job at Big Cypress National Preserve, which saw a 100-acre wildfire flare up Wednesday, when his son called him and told him about the fire threatening their 14th Street Southeast home. Mitchell said something in a trailer in his neighbor’s yard exploded during the fire.

“It was a big boom,” Mitchell said. “They didn’t know what was in it.”

After the fire had died down, Mitchell went out back to inspect the damage. The forest behind his home was completely gutted by fire, but his home was safe.

“They did a good job,” Mitchell said of the firefighters. “Very proud of these boys.”

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