Battle not over for firefighters – or residents – in Golden Gate Estates

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Firefighters are still working to keep flames from destroying any more property in Golden Gate Estates.

Since the fire is at 900 acres and 75% containment, officials are cautiously optimistic.
They are in what they call “mop-up mode,” meaning that while most of this fire is contained, anything smoldering or smoking may reignite

Officials from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement say part of what they’re doing to get the fire to 100% containment is keeping an eye on the ground. Even if the ground isn’t showing smoke or fire, there is residual heat, so it’s important for people to be careful where they walk.

Residents are trying to cope with the prolonged battle with the flames and not succumb to fire fatigue.

“Yeah, I didn’t know… because when I left here, that was on fire, that was on fire,” said Cathy Graves. “The cop said ‘Get your dogs in the car and go,’ and I wanted to say ‘What about my chickens?'”

Firefighters are still emphasizing the importance and effectiveness of having defensible space surrounding your home, keeping firewood a safe distance away, cleaning out gutters and keeping lawns mowed and hydrated.

“We’ll get through this,” said Trish Brock. “It’s going to be tough, but it’s going to be a long road.”

– Michael Hudak reporting from Golden Gate Estates

Fire 75% contained by late Monday

Firefighters in Collier County were being sent home Monday to rest up as they continued to battle a big brush fire that started Saturday afternoon.

Crews were on the lookout for smoke and flames popping up around the 14th Avenue fire in Golden Gate Estates. At least 900 acres were still burning, and two homes have been destroyed while two others sustained damage.

The Florida Forest Service said Monday they were taking advantage of the slightly calmer conditions and were still at 75% containment. They’ve been putting out a lot of pop-up fires.

People around the area were grateful for what’s still standing.

“The fire just kept getting closer and closer,” said Beth Perez.

“It made me very frightened, honestly. We just jumped in the car and took our dogs and got out of there,” said Bob Lippe.

Cars were burnt to a crisp, trees were charred and belongings were ruined.

“Thank God we’re safe. Our little paradise needs work to get it cleaned up,” Lippe said.

Many in Golden Gate Estates have similar stories of when they had to escape flames and then hope they came back to a home still standing.

“It was scary not to know what to expect when we came home,” Lippe said.

Luckily, no one was hurt and many homes were spared.

“A policeman came banging on my door very strong, and he said go, go outside, the fire is worse,” said Rosie Battle.

Greater Naples Fire & Rescue said they saved so many homes because of the defensible space – separation from trees, vegetation and grass that burns around the homes.

“Thanks to the firefighters, they did an amazing job,” Lippe said.

FFS drove around, making sure all pop-up hot spots were extinguished, and now families are working together to clean up, one step at a time.

“We have each other, and we have the house, and we praise the Lord the firemen and all our neighbors who have been wonderful,” Perez said.

FFS said that while conditions are better, there are still red-flag conditions, with very low humidity and no rain. They will be on alert until these conditions change.

Taylor Smith reporting from Golden Gate Estates

Homes destroyed by fire

Those who lost their homes in this weekend’s brush fire were choked up with emotion. For them, it’s been an absolutely awful couple of days.

Two homeowners are left wondering how to pick up the pieces and move on.

“It was devastating when we went back,” said Connie Brock.

After escaping their home Saturday afternoon, Brock and her roommate, Trish Morris, returned to find a hole in their roof and debris all over the place.

“We’re both waiting to break down… just let it go. But we can’t. We have to stay halfway functional because we’ve got animals to take care of,” Brock said.

They, along with their seven dogs and two cats, are now staying in a home supplied by Brock’s employer, The Humane Society.

“They have provided us with so much love and support. Giving us this nice home to stay in. I don’t know what we would do, we would be sleeping in our car with all these animals,” Brock said.

But it’s only temporary.

“After 30 days of being here, then where do we go? What do we do?”

Brothers Jordan and Tyler Uzcategui are grappling with that question, too. The fire ripped through their home, burning it to the foundation and leaving behind only rubble.

Their pets, including two dogs, were also lost.

“Upset. Angry that we can’t do anything about it,” Jordan said.

“Doesn’t feel real at all; still doesn’t feel real. Just got the house last year and then this happens,” Tyler said.

But they said they have to move on.

“Take a loss now… Rebuild and get stronger. Go from there,” Tyler said.

They were at a loss for words and said they’re still processing their loss.

Rachel Cox-Rosen reporting from Golden Gate Estates

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