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Wildfires again threaten FL homes


BREVARD COUNTY, FL (July 6, 1998) -- More than 500 residents faced a mandatory evacuation early Wednesday

morning as wildfires broke through fire breaks and threatened their homes.

Emergency officials said the most danger to residents appeared to be in

Brevard County where a fire was threatening about 200 structures in Mims

and Scottsmoor. However, more than 112 new fires were reported yesterday

across the state, once again stretching firefighting resources.

"It's a bad day for firefighters," a spokesman for the Florida Division

of Emergency Management said Wednesday afternoon. High winds, a lack of

sustained rain, heat and low humidity, were all converging Wednesday as

emergency agencies worked to once again contain the disaster that has

consumed more than 260,000 acres since Memorial Day.

Firefighters have gained the upperhand on a number of the largest

wildfires in Florida, but emergency officials said several days of rain is

desperately needed to help end the disaster that has consumed more than

237,000 acres.

Fires in hard-hit Volusia and Flagler Counties had been contained by

firefighters for several days before breaking through fire lines Tuesday to

threaten the Lake Ashby subdivision.

Fires have impacted 66 of Florida's 67 counties. While scattered

thundershowers have helped in some areas, most of the new fires have been

caused by lightningstrikes from those same storms. Emergency officials say

that several days of sustained tropical rains are needed to really be able

to make an impact on the worst outbreak of wildfires in more than 60 years.

In response to the fires, Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles, has ordered a ban

on sales of fireworks and all private use of the devices for as long as the

fire danger exists.

The Salvation Army has been providing food for firefighters and is

helping state officials stock a warehouse in Daytona Beach with materials

needed for fire survivors.

Fires have now destroyed 84 homes, according to Emergency

Management officials. Although many homeowers have insurance, Seminole

Heart, an interfaith organization working in Seminole County, is now trying

to help nine rural families burned out of their homes.

"The rural poor may not have any home insurance," explained Paul Binder,

a Disaster Resource Consultant with Church World Service. "They could

easily lose their homes to the fires and face total devastation."

While firefighters have saved some homes from destruction that have been

within a few yards from the fires, many homeowners are finding the flames

have melted their well casings, said Jody Hill, executive director of

Florida Interfaith Networking in Disaster (FIND).Repairs

may cost $1,000 to $1,500 per home.

In addition, many out-buildings and vehicles have been destroyed.

Emergency officials have no estimates on how many of the non-home

structures and vehicles that have been are not insured.

Chip Patterson, director of Jacksonville's Emergency Operations Center,

credited the Lord's blessings and the firefighters efforts for keeping the

property damage and hazard to residents low so far.

President Clinton declared areas in Florida affected by the wildfires to be

a major disaster, qualifying state for Federal Emergency Management

Agency (FEMA) funds.

The presidential declaration is providing additional

fire fighting resources, but FEMA is still evaluating damages to determine

if the declaration should be extended to provide assistance to residents

and commercial owners.

Updated July 1, 1998

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