Multiple fires: Smoke permeates much of Collier, including Marco Island

Marco Eagle

On Monday morning, the Florida Highway Patrol had closed portions of I-75 and U.S. 41 in Collier County due to smoke from multiple brush fires – including Alligator Alley from mile marker 101 at SR 951 to mile marker 80 at SR 29 and U.S. 41 between the same roadways due to poor visibility.

The Greenway Fire burns in Collier County on Thursday, March 22, 2018.

Marco Island has been dealing with smoke for the better part of last week and by Friday was enveloped by it, authorities said.

“The dense smoke covering the majority of Marco Island is the result of seven different fires burning off island,” Marco Island Police Captain Dave Baer said in an email Friday afternoon.

During the Monday morning commute, visibility was severely limited due to smoke engulfing much of the island.

Baer said smoke conditions on the island are dependent on the wind direction, but noted that there are no brush fires on Marco Island itself.

Residents should monitor local television, radio and social media for updates and individuals with respiratory conditions should stay indoors until conditions improve, he said. 

A recreational vehicle was destroyed by the Greenway Fire as it continued to grow in the Sabal Palm area, the Greater Naples Fire Rescue District reported Sunday.

The owner is safe and in contact with the Red Cross, Chief Kingman Schuldt said.

A home had light damage but was saved from the flames.

The blaze was 6,500 acres and 15 percent contained Sunday afternoon after merging with a second wildfire, causing a growth increase and containment gap, the Caloosahatchee Forestry Center reported. 

A Collier County Sheriff helicopter transports water to the Flag Pond Fire as it continues to burn in Picayune Strand State Forest on Friday, March 23, 2018.

Lightning caused the fire that began Wednesday afternoon, officials said.

A 17-acre fire started in the Sabal Palm Road area Sunday afternoon. Fire crews were working to keep the blaze from reaching the Verona Walk and Winding Cypress communities, although neither was immediately threatened, Schuldt said.

Greater Naples firefighters are patrolling the outer edges of the fire, Schuldt said.

“As it works out more into the forest, (Florida Forestry Service) takes more of a leading position, while we protect structures,” he said Sunday. “Today we anticipate the fire to burn into unpopulated areas.”

A fire line burns in the Picayune Strand State Forest on Friday, March 23, 2018. The Florida Forest Service requested voluntary evacuations for structures on Snake Road and Lee Williams Road in Collier County on Thursday.

Winds blowing smoke over Naples shifted Sunday afternoon into Monday, said Larry Kelly, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

“We’ll get a little help today and tomorrow as light winds push out of the southeast and east,” he said Sunday. “Later Monday a weak front will come through the area with low chance of rain — only 10 percent. Behind the front it’ll be pretty windy out of the east on Tuesday, pushing the smoke towards Naples again.”

Updates on individual wildfires

Firefighters continued to work on wildfires across Collier County.

  • 116th Ave SE Fire had grown to 7,200 acres with 45 percent contained. Firefighters continue to work to increase containment. The fire started from a lightning strike.
  • Greenway Fire has grown to 6,500 acres and 15 percent contained. The Greenway fire merged with a second wildfire, causing acreage to increase and containment to decrease.
  • West Boundary Fire is holding at 2,200 acres and 50 percent contained. Bulldozers continue to establish containment lines on the north side of the wildfire while crews monitor containment for the rest of the wildfire.
The Greenway Fire burns in Collier County on Thursday, March 22, 2018. The Greenway Fire sparked on Greenway Road about four miles east of Collier Boulevard and one mile north of U.S. 41 East.

Tips to remember when driving in poor visibility conditions

  • Drive with lights on low beam. High beams will only be reflected back off the fog and actually impair visibility even more. Your lights help other drivers see your vehicle, so be sure they all work. Keep your windshield and headlights clean, to reduce the glare and increase visibility.
  • Slow down and watch your speedometer before you enter a patch of fog. Be sure that you can stop within the distance that you can see. Fog creates a visual illusion of slow motion when you may actually be speeding. Speed is a major factor in fog-related crashes.
  • Watch out for slow-moving and parked vehicles. Open your window a little and listen for traffic you cannot see.
  • Reduce the distractions in your vehicle. Turn off the radio and cell phone. Your full attention is required.
  • Use wipers and defrosters liberally for maximum visibility. Sometimes it is difficult to determine if poor visibility is due to fog or moisture on the windshield.
  • Use the right edge of the road or painted road markings as a guide.
  • Be patient. Avoid passing and/or changing lanes.
  • Signal turns well in advance and brake early as you approach a stop.
  • Do not stop on a freeway or heavily traveled road. You could become the first link in a chain-reaction collision. If you must pull off the road, signal (people tend to follow tail lights when driving in fog), then carefully pull off as far as possible. After pulling off the road, turn on your hazard flashers (hazard lights should only be used when you pull over to show that you are parked on the side of the road). Move away from the vehicle.