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Big blaze stabilized, but more spring up

A fire that has burned 5,800 acres in southwestern Florida was stabilized Saturday, but crews continued to battle a series of other blazes around the state.

Forestry officials said the Sarasota County blaze was about 50 percent contained Saturday. It was ignited Monday when lighting struck a tree, firefighters said.

That blaze was one of nearly 3,000 wildfires in Florida so far this year. Fire officials blame a lack of rain and lightning storms that strike without precipitation.

Of the 29 fires burning in Florida on Saturday, 13 were believed to have been intentionally set, said Jim Harrell, coordinator for the Florida Division of Forestry.

Arson investigators are working near Jacksonville, and another team is in the area of Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties.

"We're optimistic that they will catch the arsonists in both these cases," Harrell said.

Water-dropping helicopters helped contain a 300-acre blaze on the Union-Bradford county line Friday, near a cluster of about 20 mobile homes. The fire started in an area thick with pine and natural hardwood, burned into a swamp and was contained by 8 p.m. No homes were lost, although two were seriously threatened, said Jim Karels, spokesman for the Florida Division of Forestry.

In North Osceola County, about 12 miles northeast of St. Cloud, a lightning fire that started Monday grew to 1,000 acres. It is burning between two long, dry swamps, and forestry officials fear it will threaten a subdivision of homes in south Orange County.

In Hernando County, at the Citrus County line a 120-acre fire threatened a subdivision, but was completely contained Saturday. This fire burned near the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, and closed U.S. 19 for about 3 hours Friday.

In South Brevard County, southwest of the town of Micco, a lightning fire burned near Interstate 75. It grew from 15 acres Thursday to 465 acres. In Collier County, two large fires were contained Saturday, one was 300 acres and the other was 200 acres.

Firefighters were also close to containing a blaze in the Apalachicola National Forest, where 6,680 acres have burned since May 4.

In nearby Franklin County, firefighters contained a blaze Friday that burned close to 40 acres.

Because of the hot, dry conditions across Florida, a statewide ban was announced Wednesday for all outdoor burning, except for barbecue grilling.