RIDGE MANOR — Teams of firefighters were close to containing a wildfire Tuesday in parts of eastern Hernando County and the Withlacoochee State Forest.
The state Division of Forestry said the 649-acre blaze was 80 percent contained, and forestry teams were working to put out smoldering embers and saturate areas that were still burning. If weather conditions remain stable, officials were optimistic the fire could be extinguished by the end of the weekend.
"We've had crews driving along fire lines," said Don Ruths, a wildfire prevention specialist with the Division of Forestry. "They stop at a hot spot, rake out any embers and thoroughly wet it down."
Authorities were also investigating the cause of the fire, saying it was unlikely the blaze started naturally because there were no reports of lightning Sunday, when the fire ignited.
"We haven't ruled out any cause," said Gerry LaCavera, a wildfire mitigation coordinator for the state. "We haven't had any sign of lightning come through, so that eliminates any natural cause. That means a human-cause fire. We do a pretty standard investigation to find a cause for it."
This time of year, the majority of wildfires are started by arson or human accident. As a result, 17 counties in Florida — including Hernando, Pasco, Citrus and Sumter — have issued burn bans in an effort to decrease the danger of wildfires.
The blaze was first reported Sunday morning in the area of Richloam Clay Sink Road, just off State Road 50 in Hernando. The highway was closed for a time, but reopened Monday after some of the smoke from the fire started to clear away.
Officials said Tuesday they didn't expect any more road closures; they said nearby residents and buildings were not in immediate danger from the blaze.
But in preparation for possible changes in weather conditions, authorities have cautioned people in about 30 or 40 homes near County Road 575 about the potential threat.
"We're out there every day, just trying to keep the community informed," Ruths said. "They're aware that we're working the problem. Right now, those homes are fairly safe."
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6120.