Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Residents evacuated after Bayport brush fire threatens homes, Bayport inn

BAYPORT — A brush fire in this gulfside hamlet threatened about a dozen homes and the local watering hole Thursday afternoon, prompting officials to evacuate residents.

Officials were hesitant to say the fire was completely under control Thursday evening.

"We are being cautiously optimistic and taking aggressive action," said Don Ruths, a spokesman for the state Division of Forestry division, as he drove west along Cortez Boulevard approaching the Bayport Inn through clouds of thick gray smoke.

Pockets of flames still burned on both sides of the road. Firefighters with soot-covered faces resting near trucks and bulldozers chugged water. A helicopter with a 300-gallon bucket dangling beneath it whirred overhead.

By Thursday evening, the fire had burned about 600 acres on the north and south sides of Cortez and the east and west sides of Pine Island Drive, leaving an open but still hazy vista of charred and smoking palms and marsh grass, and reducing visibility on the road to less than 300 feet.

Fire crews doused several homes and the more than 40-year-old inn, actually a bar and restaurant today, to protect them from encroaching flames, Ruths said. "It's lucky it's still there," he said.

Some visitors and residents were stranded at Pine Island's McKethan Park to the north and at Bayport Park as crews worked to get the fire under control.

About 6 p.m., as the winds abated and visibility improved, crews decided to evacuate those people. Several dozen cars and trucks, many towing boats, streamed west on Cortez, past sheriff's deputies who had blocked off the road at Shoal Line Boulevard.

Officials said the fire was likely sparked by lightning Wednesday evening in a marshy area north of Cortez. Crews from the forestry division and Hernando County Fire Rescue responded and remained overnight.

They thought they had the fire under control by midday Thursday, but gusting winds from a nearby thunderstorm created horrendous downdrafts that pushed the flames south across Cortez and Pine Island Drive "in numerous places," Ruths said.

"The next thing we knew it was threatening homes and the Bayport Inn," he said.

Crews from Spring Hill Fire Rescue were called in, and Hernando Beach Fire Rescue was put on alert.

Jocie Mancuso, a manager at the inn, was working when officials arrived to tell them to evacuate.

"I almost had a heart attack," Mancuso said as she stood with a crowd of inn employees at a corner of Cortez and Shoal Line. "There was fire everywhere. I started screaming for everyone to leave."

Other residents trying to make their way into Pine Island and Bayport gathered at Cortez and Shoal Line. Ralph King was trying to get home to his mother, who was waiting in their Pine Island home for King to take her out to dinner for her 80th birthday.

King had left Pine Island early Thursday afternoon when the roads were still open. But the smoke seemed to be thickening.

"I could tell it was getting bigger," King said.

The fire also sparked a bit of irony.

Ruths said the forestry division and Hernando County Fire Rescue had planned to be in Hernando Beach anyway Thursday night for a "Fire Wise" public seminar on the dangers of wildfires and to offer strategies on how to minimize danger to homes.

Instead, officials who'd planned to speak were working the fire.

"I told them if they show up dressed the way they are now, they'll make their point," Ruths said.

This fire is one of many that have ravaged Hernando County within the past month. James Rosenquist, a well-known artist, lost his Aripeka home and studio in an 80-acre brush fire in April.

Ryan Strong can be reached at rstrong@sptimes.com or at (352) 544-1630. Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or at (352) 848-1431.

Residents evacuated after Bayport brush fire threatens homes, Bayport inn 06/18/09 [Last modified: Thursday, June 18, 2009 10:38pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Six new restaurants opening this summer: Burgerim, Rocco's Tacos, American Social

    Food & Dining

    OPENING SOON

    Feeling a little peckish? You're in luck, with a big raft of new restaurants poised to launch, including three at International Plaza.

    BURGERIM

    In the fast-casual arena, Burgerim is opening in late July at 800 N Franklin St. in Tampa. The concept is mini burgers, so you won’t be eating just one.
  2. Hernando County Commission rejects plan for waste-to-energy plant

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — After several years of discussion, many hours of staff time trying to negotiate a contract and questions about viability, the Hernando County Commission this week voted unanimously to turn down a contract with Freedom Energy Hernando LLC and abandoned the idea of having the county spearhead a …

     Commissioner John Allocco made the motion to deny the contract to Freedom Energy.
  3. Lack of parking for boat trailers causing turmoil along Port Richey waterfront

    Local Government

    PORT RICHEY — As Memorial Day and the summer boating season approach, the city of Port Richey finds itself in turmoil over parking along the city's waterfront.

    Gill Dawg restaurant owner Erik Suojanen, standing on property he owns across from his business, discusses a notice of violation he received from the city for allowing parking there without a submitting a site plan to the city.
 [Photo by Robert Napper]
  4. Tampa court hearing rescheduled for accused neo-Nazi jihadist killer

    Criminal

    TAMPA — Attorneys for Devon Arthurs, the alleged former neo-Nazi turned jihadist accused of shooting to death his two roommates, have asked to reschedule a court hearing that had been set for Wednesday morning.

    Devon Arthurs, 18, and his friend Brandon Russell, 22, never outgrew the extremist ideology of a disaffected youth, according to an acquaintance. Arthurs is now accused of shooting to death two of their roommates and Russell faces federal charges in connection with bomb-making materials found in their apartment. [Tampa Police Department]
  5. Parent of struggling DeVry University is changing its name to Adtalem

    Corporate

    Associated Press

    DOWNERS GROVE, Ill. — The company that owns one of the nation's largest for-profit college chains is changing its name.

    This 2009 photo shows the entrance to the DeVry University in Miramar, Fla. DeVry Education Group, which owns DeVry University, announced Wednesday that it will now be called Adtalem Global Education. 
[Associated Press file photo]