Fire investigators trying to identify homes damaged, destroyed by 8,500-acre fire
Fire crews from multiple agencies are battling spot fires Thursday, May 14, 2020, from the 36th Ave brush fire Golden Gate Estates. Naples Daily News
As an 8,500 acre inferno continues to burn near Interstate 75 and Collier Boulevard, investigators with the Greater Naples Fire Rescue District are beginning the process of identifying homes and structures that have been damaged or destroyed by the blaze.
Starting Friday, a team of about 15 fire district employees will be mapping every street and counting homes near where the fire is burning, Fire Chief Kingman Schuldt said.
Schuldt said they know of about 12 structures that have either been damaged or destroyed, but he said he didn’t know yet what type of structures they are: homes, mobile homes, recreational vehicles, out-parcels or barns.
The fire is burning in almost the same spot as a 7,200-acre blaze that burned down four homes in 2017. That year’s fire was the 30th Avenue Fire, Schuldt said, while this fire is the 36th Avenue Fire.
“It started in almost the same spot, took a very similar pattern,” Schuldt said. “There are people that lost their homes three years ago that have rebuilt, that have moved back in and they are under the mandatory evacuation.”
The fire began in Golden Gate Estates around 2 p.m. Wednesday and at one point separated into about six different brush fires because of the spread of embers or flames.
Schuldt said Friday morning that the fire remains about 5% to 10% contained.
Mandatory evacuations remain in place for people living along at least a dozen roads in the area. But Schuldt urged all residents living near the fire to be vigilant, regardless of the evacuation order.
“We don’t want people to let their guards down,” he said.
Did you know?: Sheriff's office puts new mandatory evacuations in place
He warned people not to be “fooled” by the light rain falling Friday morning. “We want a lot of rain,” Schuldt said, but he added, “The light sprinkles you have right here are not doing anything out there to suppress the fire.”
“Its not a bad thing,” Schuldt said, “but this is not going to extinguish and 8,000 acre fire.”
About 200 firefighters from around the state – as far away as Tampa, Miami and Orlando – have descended on Collier County to battle the blaze.
The Florida Forest Service is taking the lead battling the fire in the wildlands, while district firefighters are taking the lead defending structures, Schuldt said.
Florida Forest Service firefighters are cutting plow lines around the fire with tractors.
“They try to ring the fire to cut it off, create a fire break if you will. Once that fire break is in place we can go in with our off-road vehicles and actually extinguish the fires,” Schuldt said.
Schuldt said his firefighters are making difficult decisions out in the field.
“They have to make the real time decision on do we try to save that structure, do we try to rescue somebody, do we try to help the farm animals, which is a huge issue in the wildland areas,” Schuldt said. “These men and women are putting their lives on the line, not only all day, but each house they go to is a separate battle.”
Watch what happened earlier this week: Smoke rises over Collier from brush fires