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Sarasota fire shrinks as other blazes erupt

A fire on the Union-Bradford county line threatens about 20 mobile homes.

A 5,700-acre fire in Sarasota County was about half contained Friday, but other fires popped up around the state, including one threatening homes in northeast Florida, firefighters said Friday.

"We have a bad fire going on the Union-Bradford county line," about halfway between Jacksonville and Gainesville, said Jim Harrell, a Division of Forestry spokesman.

Crews using two fixed-wing aerial tankers, one helicopter and six to eight firefighting tractors were trying to keep the flames away from a wooded area containing about 20 mobile homes, Harrell said. He couldn't immediately estimate the size of the fire.

"This is an area where the drought index is in the 550s" out of a possible 800, he said. The dryness makes the countryside of palmetto, brush and piney woods "very volatile," he said.

New fires were also reported Friday in Columbia County, near the Georgia state line in the area where 6,000 acres burned earlier in the fire season, and in Okeechobee County in south-central Florida, Harrell said. He had no immediate details on the size of either, but said aerial units were sent to both to help ground units.

"All of our aerial firefighting resources are committed at one place or another right now," he said.

In Osceola County, firefighters battled a 250-acre fire that was ignited when a motorist crashed his truck Thursday night off Florida's Turnpike, in the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area.

The turnpike remained open because winds were pushing the fire away from the road.

Ira Jolly, another division spokesman, said that although the southern Sarasota County fire wasn't fully contained, it was not expected to grow.

About 200 firefighters were at the Sarasota County blaze, which was ignited Monday by a lightning bolt.

Interstate 75, which has been closed twice since the fire began, remained open Friday.

While the fire seems closer to containment, battle scars are abundant. Nearly a hundred miles of fire lines of plowed-up soil lace the woodlands. Several ponds covering hundreds of acres have been sucked dry by firefighting pumps.

Since Jan. 1, 2,908 Florida wildfires have burned 82,919 acres of timber and grassland.