Winds stoke brush fires and prompt evacuations across Southwest Florida

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Firefighters are battling several brush fires burning throughout Southwest Florida. Friday’s high winds are fueling the flames.

The Florida Forest Service says there is a fire in Collier County near Wilson and Jung boulevards. They say that the fire is 300 acres and 25% contained. The Collier County Sheriff’s Office was conducting evacuations in the area. The fire department says all evacuation orders in Collier County related to the fire have been lifted.

The Greater Naples Fire Chief says three homes nearby have caught fire, and more homes were in danger.

CCSO says all roads that were closed due to the fire have reopened.

The Florida Forest Service has been using tankers and helicopters to try and get a handle on the flames, dropping hundreds of gallons of water.

Frightened families have been displaced for hours. Some cannot reach their pets stuck inside their homes in the evacuation zone. Juan Maderos is worried for his little dog’s safety. “My little dog is here. He’s very nervous. I don’t know what happened.”

Collier County brush fire. (Credit: FHP)

Jack Emery was waiting in the car with his son Henry for word on the condition of their home. “My wife was home with all four dogs. She had just gotten evacuated, and all the police were knocking on the door. Telling her to leave right away is a huge sense of urgency.”

Victor Chiriguaya has been on the phone with his son and son’s girlfriend for hours. The couple was stuck outside one of the homes under evacuation, waiting in their car with the dogs.

The fire department said thick smoke would be in the area throughout the night. A cause for the fire has not been determined.

In North Port, the city says a fire is burning near Toledo Blade & Price boulevards. Toledo Blade was shut down in places between I-75 and Price Blvd. but has since reopened.

Some businesses in the area were evacuated precautionarily, including Imagine School, North Port Gymnastics, and Building Blox Daycare. They were moved to Morgan Family Community Center at 6207 W. Price Blvd. North Port police say all the evacuated kids have been picked up.

“We got all the kids out of their locations they were at for after-school. So, you know, that was a top priority. We’re very fortunate so far. I don’t know of any reports of any structures going up,” said Josh Taylor, public information officer for North Port police.

Kings Plastics, The Pink Tequila, a music store, and other businesses were also evacuated.

North Port brush fire. (Credit: Non-Stop Air Conditioning)

In a matter of minutes, Angel Bartolotta says the whole area went up in flames. He could feel the intense heat from the door of his business. “We just saw the smoke moving, so we knew it was kind of hopping.”

He’s one of the people from this shopping center on Toledo Blade Boulevard and Price Boulevard who was evacuated.

Taylor says the windy conditions caused embers from the fire to jump streets and canals and catch other areas on fire. Four total fires scorched close to 50 acres of land.

“There’s a big canal, so that helped us out. And it would have gotten over that canal. There’s a place (sic) where they do some sort of equipment. It was in jeopardy. I mean, it was right across the canal from it,” Taylor said.

He says the canal acted as a containment line and protected nearby homes and businesses.

North Port say they are confident their containment perimeter will keep the fire from spreading further. They said they would remain on the scene overnight to ensure the fire did not reignite. North Port police say they will investigate the cause of the fire.

In Charlotte County, the fire off McCall Road near Englewood East threatens several buildings, including a church. A fire department helicopter has been seen dumping water on the fire. Charlotte Fire says the fire is about 8.5 acres and is under control. They said some old boats and vehicles were burned, but no homes were damaged.

The Florida Forest Service says there is a 15-acre fire off Garden Boulevard and NE 24th Ave in Cape Coral. They say the fire is 80% contained.

A brush fire has also sparked in Hendry County. The Florida Forest Service says the fire is near Dooly Grade Road and is roughly 350 acres. They say that the fire is 90% contained.

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

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