U.S. 41 closed Saturday by smoke from Sandy Fire; firefighters using drones to thwart fire's advance
OCHOPEE – Billowing smoke from the Sandy Fire continued twelve days into the blaze Saturday as more than 100 state and federal firefighters dug fire lines and pilots in helicopters and planes dropped thousands of tons of water every hour on Friday.
And putting a bit of high-tech firefighting into play on Friday, forestry firefighters began using drones to thwart the advance of flames.
The Florida Highway Patrol on Saturday, for the second time in two days, shut down traffic on a nearly 60-mile section of U.S. 41 due to the fire.
Smoke and haze created by the now 16,600-acre wildfire forced the Florida Highway Patrol to close a 58-mile stretch of U.S. 41 from Miami-Dade to Collier counties Friday morning, fearing drivers may not reduce speed enough to avoid a pile-up due to slow-downs. The road was reopened more than seven hours later, shortly before 4:30 p.m.
Shortly before 3 p.m. Saturday the FHP announced it was again shutting down 41, eastbound from State Road 29 in Collier and westbound from Krome Avenue in Miami-Dade due to poor visibility from the wildfire's smoke.
The FHP reopened 41 shortly before 8:30 p.m. Saturday. "Troopers will continue to monitor that area," a release from the FHP said.
"Travelers should be aware of potential closures and use caution when driving on U.S. 41," Riki Hoopes, National Parks Service wildfire information officer, said. "Vehicles should travel slowly and be aware of their surroundings and possible fire equipment entering and leaving the road."
Specific evacuations entered phase two of three Friday as the blaze, at 35% contained, was still growing to its southwest.
There was less than two-tenths of an inch of rain in the Big Cypress National Preserve in April. No rain has fallen there so far this month, according to the South Florida Water Management District.
And May 21 — the first rainy "summer season" day in South Florida on average — is a week away, according to the National Weather Service.
Hoopes said the Sandy Fire continues to burn through thick stands of pines, cypress, and underbrush making fighting the fire difficult because the land-based equipment often cannot get to the flames.
The balls ignite about 30 seconds after injection to start a controlled fire.
Anatomy of a wildfire:
- Wildfire in Big Cypress prompts section of trails, roads closed
- Fire crews providing structure protection on Big Cypress blaze
- Evacuation plans in place as wildfire in Big Cypress NP spreads
- Sandy Fire in Big Cypress near Ochopee grows to 5,500 acres
- Uncontrolled Sandy Fire grows to 8,400 acres despite weeklong containment efforts
- Fire grows over 10,000 acres, containment increases
- Sandy Fire over 11,000 acres, some residents urged to leave
- Sandy Fire grows to more than 15,000 acres
- How wildfires start in Florida
Road closures remain in effect west of 11 Mile Road, east of Monument Trail, and south of Mud Lake, Little Deer, Oasis Trail and Lost Dog, including the Florida Trail from the Oasis Visitor Center.
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