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Brush fires close highway

Scattered brush fires fanned by high winds temporarily closed a major highway Saturday, threatened homes and burned more than 100 cars at an auto salvage lot.

The worst of the fires occurred in east Hillsborough County, where poor visibility from smoke forced the temporary closing of a portion of U.S. 301, tying up traffic for hours.

No injuries were reported in the Hillsborough fires or in the fire at an auto salvage lot near U.S. 41 and State Road 52 in Pasco County.

In Hillsborough, southbound traffic on U.S. 301 at Lumsden Road was blocked as flames came within 50 feet of some mobile homes off the highway, officials said.

The mobile homes were never in imminent danger, and there was no damage to any other structures, said Hillsborough Fire Capt. Henry D. Dorsey.

Traffic also was diverted off Interstate 75 at U.S. 301, officials said.

Sporadic plumes of black smoke popped up in the air only to dissipate and be followed by spirals of white smoke as the fire raced over nearly two miles of vacant property. The blaze extended as far west as 78th Street and in other locations south of Lumsden and 78th, officials said.

"It escalated because of constant wind blowing in one direction," Dorsey said. "But we were blessed in that the wind was blowing away from a concentrated housing area to more rural mobile homes."

Numerous other brush fires Saturday in Hillsborough made it difficult for firefighters to get enough equipment to the fire at U.S. 301, Dorsey said. But the dry vegetation prevalent at this time of year makes the area ripe for brush fires, he said.

In Pasco County, flames swept across an auto parts lot and burned 106 cars, fire officials said.

No one was injured in the fire at A.C. Foreign Auto Parts, on U.S. 41 one mile north of State Road 52, dispatcher Ilona Smith said.

"There were about 1,000 cars in the lot, so we felt fortunate only about 100 were burned," said Pasco District Fire Chief Derryl O'Neal.

The cars were used for parts, said owner Gordon Black.

Authorities think the fire started about 3 p.m. from a brush fire nearby.

Pasco fire officials are investigating the cause, O'Neal said.

About 30 firefighters helped bring the fire under control about 45 minutes after it started, O'Neal said.

"There were a couple of houses in the area, but none were in danger," said O'Neal, adding that high winds fueled the fire and hampered efforts to control it.

No damage estimate was available late Saturday.

County firefighters remained at the scene early into the evening Saturday.

_ Staff writers Elijah Gosier and Marty Rosen contributed to this report.