Fla. wildfire battle likely to last rest of week

Florida's first significant wildfire of the year is threatening to keep dozens of firefighters busy for several more days and force more highway closures, the state agriculture commissioner said Wednesday.

A stretch of interstate highway along Florida's Atlantic coast was closed for more than an hour Wednesday because of the fire. Interstate 95 was first closed hours after the fire began Monday and into the next morning.

So far, the fire has burned about 25 square miles and destroyed one mobile home, several outbuildings and a few camp structures. The cause is still under investigation.

"With a fire that large and burning that hot, it says a lot about these crews that the number of structures has been very minimal that have been damaged, and that there's not been serious injury," said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who flew over the affected area in a helicopter Wednesday. "Protecting people and structures is our No. 1 priority. But with winds pushing it back to the west, that's gonna be a challenge for the next couple of days."

More than 100 firefighters from four counties are fighting the blaze, which Putnam said was 25 percent contained. Their work was helped by rain Tuesday.

One firefighter was treated for burns Tuesday at Orlando Regional Medical Center. A phone message left requesting an update on his condition was not immediately returned.

Winds were gusting at 10 mph Wednesday, and are expected to increase to 20 mph Thursday.

Smoke carried by the winds covered about 20 miles of I-95, forcing its temporary closure Wednesday. Putnam said intermittent closures of the interstate are expected for the rest of the week.

"The wind has been a real aggravating factor and we only expect that to continue," he said.

The blaze is about 25 miles north of the Kennedy Space Center, but NASA has said operations there are not affected.

Parts of central and South Florida have seen their driest few months in nearly 80 years, setting the stage for a very active fire season.

"It's very early in the season to have a fire of this size and magnitude," Putnam said. "With the amount of freezes earlier in the winter that killed so much plant material, now we have dry fuel on the ground...It won't take much to set it off and create a big tinderbox across the state. So we are urging caution."