Wildfires scorch homes in Florida

BY DANIEL R. GANGLER | NAPLES, FL | April 17, 2000

NAPLES, FL (April 17, 2000) -- More than 200 firefighters fought a weeklong brushfire that scorched

15,600 acres in a community called Golden Gate Estates.

Community service and church groups supported the firefighters, who were able to contain the

flames in Collier County over the weekend with the help of long overdue rains.

But fire authorities are still highly cautious. They report that, when the sun comes out and dries up

the land in a few days, Collier County could be in trouble again. Before the recent spring downpour,

the drought index was about 450 on a scale where 600 is considered critical. South Florida is still

very dry.

Firefighters battled the Collier County blaze and others around the state by setting controlled burns,

dropping thousands of gallons of water from helicopters, spraying water from hoses onto the most

intense areas of the fire, and using tractors to clear fire lines.

The Collier County fire was one of the largest in that county's history. It destroyed three mobile

homes, four brick homes, and two semi-truck trailers. It also forced the closure of nearby schools

and roads, plus the evacuation of Big Cypress National Preserve. Fortunately, no one was seriously

injured. Two firemen suffered minor injuries.

Ken Pineau, emergency management director, estimated the total bill for the

wildfire will top $1 million.

The success of fighting such a wildfire is a team effort according to Alex

Amparo, director of emergency management for the Florida Commission on Community Service.

Amparo explained how these cooperative efforts worked. For example the state

Division of Forestry purchased breakfast for the firefighters from a local merchant. The Salvation

Army picked up the food and distributed it along the 25-mile firebreak. The American Red Cross

prepared and distributed lunch. Then the Salvation Army distributed dinner, while the Jaycees

prepared sandwiches for nightshift firefighters.

Other support organizations and agencies supporting firefighters have included: Adventist

Community Services, Christian Disaster Response, Church World Service, Florida's Interfaith

Networking in Disaster, Second Harvest Food Bank, United Methodist Committee on Relief,

Associated Industries of Florida, Corporation for National Service, Florida Department of Elder

Affairs, Florida Association of Volunteer Centers, and United Way.

"A local Fort Myers TV and radio station, collaborating with Culligan water,

secured 3,000 gallons of bottled water to support the feeding operations," said Amparo.

Publix supermarkets also donated a truckload of pint-sized bottled water to help firefighters stave off

dehydration and heat exhaustion, he said.

The fire was believed to have started from an aerosol can that exploded after

it was thrown into a campfire by a 17-year-old camper from Naples. The teenager was questioned,

and police reports indicate that the teen will likely face a misdemeanor charge of careless burning.

Posted April 17, 2000

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