VIDEO: Golden Gate Estates wildfire slows, dangerous days ahead

Kyle Schnorr stands on his friend's property Thursday morning to look at vehicles that were burned out by a brush fire that ripped through the area Wedensday at the south end of 14th Street SE. Schnorr helped his friend retrieve his animals from the home before evacuatingn Wednesday. The fire burned more than 2300 acres in the Golden Gate Estates since it started Tuesday. Lexey Swall/Staff

Photo by LEXEY SWALL // Buy this photo

Kyle Schnorr stands on his friend's property Thursday morning to look at vehicles that were burned out by a brush fire that ripped through the area Wedensday at the south end of 14th Street SE. Schnorr helped his friend retrieve his animals from the home before evacuatingn Wednesday. The fire burned more than 2300 acres in the Golden Gate Estates since it started Tuesday. Lexey Swall/Staff

Map of 'Slope,' the lightning-initiated fire that burned 2,304 acres of Golden Gate Estates in a wooded area south of Golden Gate Boulevard and West of Everglades Boulevard by Thursday, April 28, 2011. The fire started west of 38th Avenue Southeast and moved north, burning 500 acres Tuesday. It then grew to more than 1,700 acres Wednesday, creeping into homes along 14th Street Southeast.

Photo by MATT CLARK // Buy this photo

Map of "Slope," the lightning-initiated fire that burned 2,304 acres of Golden Gate Estates in a wooded area south of Golden Gate Boulevard and West of Everglades Boulevard by Thursday, April 28, 2011. The fire started west of 38th Avenue Southeast and moved north, burning 500 acres Tuesday. It then grew to more than 1,700 acres Wednesday, creeping into homes along 14th Street Southeast.

2,304 acres burn in Golden Gate Estates

Rick Scott visits Golden Gate Estates to ...

— The Golden Gate Estates brush fire that has burned more than 2,300 acres, threatened hundreds of homes, destroyed one trailer home, and charred two vehicles had slowed its aggressive spread by Thursday afternoon.

Nonetheless, Florida Division of Forestry officials were still worried “Slope,” as they’ve dubbed the fire, would jump containment lines during less desirable weather conditions expected today and Saturday.

“The real critical part is going to be this weekend. If we can make it through the weekend and keep it in the lines, we’ll be fine,” Division of Forestry Region 4 Deputy Chief of Field Operations David Utley said.

Slope got its name for the way its flames sloped toward the smoke plumes that first rose Tuesday around 2:30 p.m. over a large, wooded area west of Everglades Boulevard and south of Golden Gate Boulevard.

By Tuesday evening, Slope had consumed 500 acres and destroyed a trailer home. It was believed to be 100 percent contained near a radio tower due west of 28th Avenue Southeast.

But Slope didn’t stay contained. Wind gusts blew its smoldering remains into new areas. Like the bolt of lightning that started it Tuesday, the fire rapidly spread to 1,769 acres Wednesday afternoon and evening as it moved toward homes along Frangipani Avenue, 14th Street Southeast, 16th Street Southeast, and others.

On Thursday morning, Slope went farther into the wooded areas between the homes south of Golden Gate Boulevard between Dove Tree Street and 20th Street Southeast. It was 50 percent contained by Thursday evening after it had spread more than 500 acres in a day.

A Division of Forestry air tanker and helicopter were dousing hot spots from the air, while 75 firefighters from Collier and Lee counties doused them from the ground in brush trucks.

The hot spots were called in by residents and from pilots in a second Division of Forestry plane and a Collier County Sheriff’s Office helicopter, which has assisted throughout the fire.

Meanwhile, Division of Forestry bulldozers — all 12 of them, with five more on the way from Tallahassee — were clearing brush in a wider border around the fire.

They’re putting a big, fat rope around Slope.

“We have to be absolutely sure we have solid lines around it,” Division of Forestry spokesman Victor Hill said after a brief visit from Gov. Rick Scott to the fire’s command center. “Bottom line: We don’t expect the weather is going to be very cooperative over the next two days.”

Winds are expected to pick up and change direction multiple times today and Saturday, putting pressure on all parts of the containment lines being bulldozed around Slope, Hill said.

The fire’s rapid spread was fueled by years of dead vegetation that piled up during recent cold winters and hasn’t burned completely for years, Hill said.

Wooded areas behind homes along 14th Street Southeast, 16th Street Southeast and farther south have been completely scorched by the flames, along with sheds and belongings left outdoors by residents. On Wednesday, one resident reported explosions coming from a trailer on fire in his neighbor’s yard.

When the flames were threatening homes, fire rescue districts positioned themselves in driveways, resorting to “direct structure protection,” Hill said. He urged residents to turn on their sprinklers, rather than trying to fight the fire with a hose.

Slope has produced some “very extreme and erratic fire conditions,” Utley said, adding that firefighters are constantly being warned against getting caught without a way to escape the flames. One firefighter suffered a minor injury Tuesday, but no other injuries have been reported.

“We’re very concerned about the people out there,” Utley said.

Slope hasn’t been the only fire to flare up in the area.

A fire in Big Cypress National Preserve that is believed to have been started by lightning Wednesday had grown to 3,000 acres by Thursday afternoon, a preserve spokesman reported.

The fire is in the heart of the preserve, just south of an area known locally as Little Deer. There are private camps in the area, and the National Park Service’s priority is to take “appropriate management actions to protect properties when necessary,” according to a Park Service statement.

The Park Service has closed trails in the vicinity of the fire and are asking property owners and visitors to avoid the area.

Two other fires totalling 65 acres were contained Tuesday. One of them sent smoke over Interstate 75, causing signs warning of low visibility to be placed near the Alligator Alley toll booths. It is believed the Tuesday fires were caused by lightning.

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.

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