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Firefighters keep watch over smoldering Chassahowitzka peat

WEEKI WACHEE — Fire crews were back to work Saturday at the scene of a brush fire in the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area that put a scare into nearby residents a day earlier.

"They're basically mopping up and keeping an eye on it, making sure there are no active flames or flare-ups," said Don Ruths, spokesman for the Florida Division of Forestry.

Crews were also working to completely surround the smoldering area with a fire line, Ruths said.

Firefighters from six agencies scrambled into action Friday afternoon when shifting winds caused a prescribed burn in the wildlife area to flare out of control and race to the east, toward the gated golf community of Glen Lakes.

The blaze threatened about a dozen homes along the western edge of the subdivision west of U.S. 19, about 4 miles north of Weeki Wachee Springs.

Authorities called for a voluntary evacuation and asked residents to turn on their irrigation systems.

Flames came within feet of some homes but no structures were damaged and no one was injured. Crews had the fire under control by 7 p.m.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission had a permit from the forestry division to conduct a prescribed burn based on Friday's weather forecast. The commission planned to burn 200 acres.

By Saturday, the fire had scorched about 550 acres, Ruths said.

The thick haze that enveloped the area Friday had largely cleared, but peat in the swampy areas will continue to smolder and winds could push smoke toward populated areas.

"We can only hope Mother Nature brings us a rainstorm to put that out," Ruths said.

Reach Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes on Twitter.

Firefighters keep watch over smoldering Chassahowitzka peat 03/30/13 [Last modified: Saturday, March 30, 2013 9:12pm]
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