CHASSAHOWITZKA — Plumes of gray smoke, thick like a morning fog, billowed high above the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area as a controlled burn in the park remained out of control Friday.
Firefighters and forestry officials were bracing for shifting winds from the northwest today, which could possibly keep the blaze spreading into the nearby Chassahowitzka Swamp.
"If that happens, we could be dealing with a muck fire," said Don Ruths, wildfire mitigation specialist with the state Division of Forestry. "Once it gets into the swamp, it's a difficult thing to put out. But it doesn't pose a threat to the community."
The fires started Thursday morning as part of a 250-acre controlled burn administered by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission in area in the far northwest corner of Hernando County. But the fires got out of control later in the afternoon as brisk winds carried embers across firebreaks and sparked additional fires, authorities said.
By Friday afternoon, the fires had scorched about 370 acres of land while firefighters with the Division of Forestry, Fish and Wildlife Commission battled the blazes with support from Hernando County Fire and Rescue.
Ruths said the firefighters had established containment lines around the fires and they successfully picking off embers that were coming out of the blaze.
"We're babysitting it right now and watching those (embers) very closely and catching each and every one of them," Ruths said. "We hope to get this thing settled down and burned out."
Firefighters planned to return to the area in the morning, once conditions were drier and the humidity drops again.
Ruths said residents in the nearby area were not in immediate danger but local officials had still placed warning signs for motorists along U.S. 19 and County Road 595. If the winds were to shift today and spread the fire into the swamp, Ruths said, the threat of a smoke hazard would become more palpable.
"That's our biggest concern," Ruths said. "It would take awhile for that one to go out."
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 754-6120.