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Florida firefighters face at least 32 wildfires

Thousands forced to evacuate homes in Collier, Lee, Polk counties

COLLIER COUNTY, Fla. – Florida Forest Service crews were coordinating efforts to fight at least 32 wildfires across the sunshine state on Saturday.

Gov. Rick Scott said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was helping authorities to deal with the largest wildfires in Collier, Lee and Polk counties.

The U.S. National Guard also joined the effort, after two of the wildfires required authorities to evacuate thousands of homes.

"As these wildfires continue, there are people who woke up this morning to find their homes destroyed and their lives completely changed," Scott said.

Authorities evacuated about 800 homes during Polk County's Red Grange wildfire, about 2,000 homes during Lee County's Ann Avenue wildfire and about 6,000 homes during Collier County's Frangipani wildfire.

"Our guys and the structure guys from greater Naples were extremely busy," Florida Forest Service spokesman Joe Zwierzchowski said.

The Frangipani wildfire damaged at least 5,500 acres. The Red Grange wildfire damaged at least 700 acres, and the Ann Avenue wildfire burned at least 400 acres.

"The state is really dry," Scott said. "Thank God we have the firefighters we have all around the state."

Firefighters from Miami-Dade, Broward, Sarasota and Charlotte Counties, along with many other areas from across the state were helping the overwhelmed local departments.

As of 6:20 p.m., authorities reported the fire in Lee County was nearly completely contained. About 20 percent of the wildfire in Collier County and about 60 percent of the wildfire in Polk County were also contained, according to Scott's office.

Authorities will be monitoring the fire in Collier County throughout Saturday night. Officials said firefighters will work on widening and improving containment lines.

"With the rains we are cautiously optimistic of getting ahead of the wildfire and increasing containment through the nighttime hours," said John Kern, incident commander for the Florida Forest Service Interagency Incident Management Green Team.

Officials said reduced visibility on area roads is possible with the increased humidity and low winds overnight. Drivers are being urged to use caution if they encounter fog or smoke.

Local 10 News Melissa Alvarez contributed to this story.

About the Authors:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013.

Troy Blevins is a Digital Content Editor who has been with Graham Media Group since 2012.