NAPLES — The primary source of the smokey conditions in Collier County on Wednesday is a fire covering nearly more than 21,000 acres in Big Cypress National Preserve, experts say.
Local meteorologists reported that winds heading northwest carried the smoke through areas of Golden Gate, East Naples and North Naples, as well as parts of Lee County on Wednesday morning.
Jim Reif, a meteorologist for NBC-2 in Fort Myers, reported there were two factors responsible for fires bringing smoky conditions into western Collier and Lee counties on Wednesday morning.
“Wind certainly had a role in bringing the smoke to the coastline,” Reif said.
Northwestern winds brought the heavy smoke from the Big Cypress Nature Preserve into the residential areas dozens of miles from the fire.
However, Reif said, a phenomenon called “temperature inversion,” when air is cooler at ground level than at higher elevations, also served to trap smoke pollutants where Southwest Florida residents walk and drive.
A front is expected to move winds eastward on Thursday, Reif said, and coastal regions are not expected to see the same smoky conditions they woke up to on Wednesday morning. Those closer to the fire may not be so lucky.
However, it’s too soon to tell if all Southwest Floridians won’t have to endure another round of the smoky haze later this week.
“Smoke forecasts are usually good for about 24 hours,” Reif said. “After that it’s a guessing game.”
More than 250 federal firefighters and other personnel from across the country continue to battle the 21,645-acre blaze, which has been nicknamed “Jarhead.”
The name refers to a nephew of a fire management official, who recently finished a tour of duty with the Marines.
Bob DeGross, a spokesman for the National Park Service, said that despite the smoky conditions, the Jarhead is not a direct threat to Collier residents.
“They will see and smell the affects of smoke, but the fire is not in their backyard,” DeGross said. “The fire for the most part is about 40 miles east of where they live.”
Health department officials say the smoke conditions will linger and so the public needs to heed their health conditions.
“Over the next three or four days we will have periods of heavy smoke,” said department spokeswoman Deb Millsap.
Some intentional burning of dead vegetation also is taking place to help control the brush fire, and that is contributing to the smoke, she said.
The health department conducts symptom surveillance at all emergency rooms at Collier hospitals and so far there has not been an uptick in patients with respiratory problems, Millsap said.
Families also need to pay attention to their children because they have smaller respiratory systems and breath faster, so they are more susceptible to developing problems because of the smoke, she said.
The wildfire is, however, hitting home with Florida wildlife.
Four panther kittens were killed this week when the flames swept across their den.
The five-month-old kittens, a female and three males, had been marked with transponders April 15 by preserve workers; the kittens’ remains were found Tuesday.
The mother panther was at the den until Monday afternoon, when the fire reached the den. Biologists believe she is still alive.
In 2009, a wildfire burned more than 30,000 acres in the Big Cypress preserve and took more than three weeks to bring under control.
Smoke from the fire shut down the Alligator Alley portion of Interstate 75 for days, and firefighters from across the country were tapped to battle the blaze.
The National Park Service reports Jarhead may not be contained until May 18.
This year, dry and windy conditions have created active fire conditions across Collier County.
“We haven’t seen a drought like this in the last 30 years,” DeGross said.
The Florida Division of Forestry is still monitoring the remnants of a Golden Gate Estates fire, nicknamed “Slope,” which endangered hundreds of homes last week. That fire is now roughly 90 percent contained, said Victor Hill, spokesman for the Division of Forestry.
Firefighters are also on the scene of the smoldering remains of an East Naples wildfire south off Sabal Palm Road. That fire, which grew to 50-acres, is now 100 percent contained.
While both of the fires are largely under control, Hill said there are still concerns that gusty wind conditions could rekindle those flames.
Staff writers Eric Staats and Liz Freeman contributed to this story.
SW FLORIDA BRUSH FIRE (APRIL - MAY 2011)
- Video: 2,304 Acre burn in Golden Gate
- Photos: Fires in Verona Walk
- Photos: Brush Fire in East Naples
- Photos: Gov. Scott visits Golden Gate Estates brush fire command center
- Photos: Estates residents survey aftermath of brush fire
- Photos: Aerial photos of Golden Gate Brush Fire
- Photos: Golden Gates Estates Brush Fire Photos: April 26-28, 2011
- Photos: Estates fire rages into the evening, mandatory evacuations in some parts
- Photos: Multiple fires in Collier, vehicles, structures lost
- Photos: Firefighters battle three fires in Golden Gate Estates
- Photos: Golden Gate Estates brush fire: April 26, 2011
- Severe Weather Guide: Read stories and find useful information on wildfires