Wildfire in southwest Florida grows over 8,500 acres; interstate has reopened

COLLIER COUNTY, Fla. – Forestry officials are still battling a dangerous and fast-moving brush fire in southwestern Florida that has grown even larger Friday to 8,600 acres.

Only 10% of the fire was contained as of Friday at 3 p.m., officials said.

The portion of Interstate 75 (Alligator Alley) that was closed has reopened. Heavy smoke continues to impact the area, though, and drivers are urged to use caution.

Multiple residences in Collier County have been reported as destroyed or damaged. Agencies from Broward and Miami-Dade counties are sending firefighters to Collier to help battle the wildfire.

A map of evacuation areas can be seen here from Collier County Emergency Management:

Map of Evacuation Zones for the #36thAveSE fire. If you live outside of the zones and feel at risk or are having...

Posted by Collier County Emergency Management on Thursday, May 14, 2020

Officials say high winds and low humidity have helped the fire spread on the western edge of the Florida Everglades.

Bev Rogers, who has a pool renovation business out of her family home, told Local 10 News that she had just enough time to get her kids and dogs out.

“Looking at pretty much three acres of property that didn’t really make it through so well,” she said, walking through much of her burned property Thursday. “The trailers that we had — most of the trucks that we had here are gone. It’s a complete loss.”

Sky 10 captured images of burnt trees, damaged cars and utility workers fixing power lines.

Update: A citizen contact center has been set up for affected residents at 40th Avenue Southeast and Everglades Boulevard. Residents can access this area from Interstate 75 at the Everglades Boulevard overpass Please avoid the area of Everglades Boulevard South from 40th Ave SE to Golden Gate Boulevard East. The brush fire is creating a dangerous situation! Video from CCSO Capt. Lee on scene.

Posted by Collier County Sheriff's Office on Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The fires began around 2 p.m. Wednesday in the Golden Gate community in central Collier County, and it had separated into multiple different brush fires that later merged.

“These are extremely dangerous and fast-moving wildfires that can change rapidly, so everyone in the affected area should follow directions from state and local officials,” Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said in a news release. “All residents and travelers should heed evacuation orders and closely monitor the media for updates on the wildfire and the status of I-75 and local roads. We thank our brave local and wildland firefighters for working swiftly to control this wildfire.”

Rogers vowed to rebuild.

“A little hard work built it, a little hard work will rebuild it,” she said.

NFD is responding to assist Collier County Fire Districts with an urban interface brush fire where multiple structures are in danger at 36th Ave SE, N of Golden Gate Blvd.

Posted by Naples Fire-Rescue Department on Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Last week, the Florida Forest Service battled a 2,000-acre fire in Santa Rosa County and another fire in Walton County.

Officials remind residents to be careful at this time of year.

“Due to the elevated fire threat across the state, I urge all residents to be aware, exercise caution and avoid outdoor burning,” said Erin Albury, State Forester and Director of the Florida Forest Service. “We are in the peak of our year-round fire activity, and current weather conditions will only add to the existing fire danger.”

About the Authors:

Liane Morejon is an Emmy-winning reporter who joined the Local 10 News family in January 2010. Born and raised in Coral Gables, Liane has a unique perspective on covering news in her own backyard.

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba.