Pumpkin Hill fire 90% contained; smoke clearing
Updated On: Apr 03 2013 09:01:11 PM EDT
One day after a fire at Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park jumped containment lines and consumed 365 acres, firefighters battle hot spots and police are prepared to close roads in case dense smoke returns.
Cedar Point Road and three side roads were closed most of Tuesday and overnight as winds pushed what was supposed to be a 75-acre prescribed burn outside the preserve, coming within 50 feet of a couple of homes before firefighters and forestry personnel began to contain the fire.
"The flames were surrounding our house and they were getting higher and higher," said one homeowner who only gave her name as Linda.
When she called 911, she said she was told not to worry.
"I ask him again, I said, 'Are you sure that I am not to be afraid of this?' And he said, 'Oh yeah, don't be concerned.' That's when I drove down to my gate and met the fire department," said Linda, who credits the Jacksonville Fire Department for saving her home.
Early Wednesday police alternately opened and closed Cedar Point between Sheffield Road and Darcy due to near-zero visibility from the smoldering fire. The road was fully open by 11 a.m. and forestry officials say the fire is nearly 90 percent.
"There's one section of line that's in the southwest portion of the fire (that's) swampy, that the equipment could not go through," said Annaleasa Winter with the Florida Forest Service. "So there's one uncontrolled edge of the fire."
While visibility along roads in the area improved through the day, deep in the woods where dozens of firefighters -- some with tractors and heavy equipment -- battled hot spots, the smell of smoke is still prevalent. Firefighters say it will stay that way until the area gets a soaking rain -- which forecasters say may come within 24 hours.
Until that rain comes, Jacksonville police will monitor conditions and be prepared to close the roads again if visibility threatens motorists' safety. Firefighters also plan to stay close in case the fire rekindles.
"If people see flames, if they're concerned, they can dial 911," Winters said. "There will be a very rapid response because there are plenty of resources in the area."
Some residents of the area criticized the decision to allow the controlled burn, saying this isn't the first time one got out of control and threatened the neighborhood.
"Even the firemen said, 'I don't understand how this could happen,'" Linda told Channel 4. "It's dry and it's windy, and you're not supposed to have any kind of fire, controlled or whatever. It just blew it right our way."
Forestry spokeswoman Annaleasa Winter said that the park service was operating within its prescribed guidelines when the fire jumped containment lines, and said burning out the dense undergrowth "is the best defense against wildfires."
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