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Central Florida wildfires force hundreds to flee

Gusty winds and dry air fueled brush fires across Central Florida on Sunday, forcing road closures and hundreds of home evacuations.

A roughly 30-mile stretch of Interstate 95 from Indian River County to Melbourne remained closed Sunday night because of low visibility. Officials with the Florida Highway Patrol did not know when the road would reopen.

Separate brush fires caused the evacuation of 500 to 600 homes in Brevard and Volusia counties, including 400 or so in the Daytona Beach area. A rapidly moving brush fire there shut down LPGA Boulevard, quickly engulfing between 500 and 600 acres.

Florida Division of Forestry spokesman Timber Weller said winds moving at about 17 to 18 mph and dry conditions made the fire especially challenging.

"Control is extremely difficult and there's basically several small subdivisions in the area and fires burning, in some cases, very close to the homes," Weller said.

Wind gusts of 39 mph were reported in Orlando and Daytona Beach on Sunday, said Bay News 9 meteorologist Diane Kacmarik.

In the Tampa Bay area, gusts maxed out at about 30 mph.

The National Weather Service on Sunday issued red flag warnings for many counties throughout the state, including Hillsborough and Pasco in the bay area.

The warning means that a dangerous combination of warm temperatures, relative humidity and wind may exist, increasing the risk of wildfire.

Humidity levels throughout the state will drop even further today, Kacmarik said.

An American Red Cross shelter was set up at a Daytona Beach hotel for Volusia County evacuees and the city has established a hot line, according to a news release.

Information from the Associated Press and the Orlando Sentinel were used in this report. Rita Farlow can be reached at (727) 445-4162 or at farlow@sptimes.com.

Central Florida wildfires force hundreds to flee 05/11/08 [Last modified: Monday, May 12, 2008 8:05am]
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