Florida Governor Declares State of Emergency
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NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. (AP) – Gov. Jeb Bush declared a state of emergency and called in the Florida National Guard to help fight wildfires that have burned thousands of acres and blanketed highways with thick smoke.
Officials are tracking about 50 active wildfires throughout the water-parched state, including blazes just south of Daytona Beach that have destroyed three homes and shut down stretches of Interstate 95.
Rain was expected to help some areas Tuesday afternoon, but officials worried that lightning could spark more blazes.
“We still have significant wildfire conditions and need a tremendous amount of rain to get back to normal levels,” New Smyrna Beach spokeswoman Shannon Lewis said Tuesday.
The governor declared a state of emergency Monday night, deploying aviation units from the Florida National Guard. He also met with some of the 155 firefighters working to contain a fire in New Smyrna Beach that has consumed about 1,300 acres since Sunday and destroyed three homes.
“We are a tinder box right now,” Bush said. “We had a little bit of rain but not enough to give people assurances that we are not going to have more fires.”
The governor said many of the fires likely started with either human negligence or malevolence.
About 1,000 residents were ordered to evacuate Sunday in New Smyrna Beach as the fire approached. Avia Toney was relieved Monday to find her house had been spared. She fled the neighborhood only when she saw fire approaching through the woods across a nearby golf course.
“It was right at the edge of the woods,” she said. “Ashes were falling. It was black and ugly.”
More than 2,200 wildfires have burned over 44,000 acres in Florida since Jan. 1, according to the state Division of Forestry.
“These fires are consuming everything,” said Jim Brenner, the division’s fire management administrator. “And it’s not over by any stretch of the imagination.”
Interstate 95 had reopened early Tuesday in Brevard and Volusia counties, Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Kim Miller said. However, smoke could shut it down again if the fires flare up again.