COLLIER COUNTY, Fla. -- Firefighters Tuesday continued to battle a 6,000-acre brush fire in the Picayune Strand State Forest that is now 30 percent contained, as of 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Florida Highway Patrol has closed I-75 between State Road 29 exit 80 and Golden Gate Parkway exit 105. Collier Boulevard has now been closed from Golden Gate Parkway to Rattlesnake Hammock Road. It was previously closed just from Davis Boulevard to Rattlesnake Hammock.
Personnel from the Florida Forest Service and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and firefighters from Collier, Sarasota, Lee and Charlotte counties worked through the night Monday and into Tuesday battling a brush fire that started Sunday and spread throughout eastern Collier.
Weather conditions on Tuesday, including a wind that slightly shifted in direction, helped the fire spread and grow from 4,000 to 6,000 acres, said Dan Summers, director for Collier County Emergency Services.
"That wind shift blows a lot of these ambers into some of the unburnt areas from yesterday," Summers said. "And it's that dry and that volatile back there. So as that wind shift it's just like blowing across the camp fire in a different direction. You're going to push the embers in a different way and that's what's happened here with these little wind shifts."
The wind was first coming from the east and then started to slightly shift toward the north, Summers said.
"Any wind shift like that in a fire this big in conditions this dry really, you know, they really magnify the situation," he said.
A scout air craft is going to come into the area again to survey the fire so officials can get a better idea of how contained it is, Summers said.
"He'll do a GPS flyover and come up with containment acreage," he said.
Residents of several communities off Beck Boulevard in East Naples are being evacuated Tuesday afternoon, according to fire officials.
The Caloosahatchee Forestry Center announced a mandatory evacuation of Club Naples RV Resort, Panthers Walk RV Resort, Forest Glen Golf & Country Club and the horse stables along Newman Drive.
Samantha Quinn, mitigation specialist for the Florida Forest Service, said the decision to evacuate was made because the fire was moving closer to the communities.
"It's coming this way, that's why," she said. "Whenever it gets within the vicinity that the supervisor feels that's when a decision is made with command and the Forest Area supervisor."
But the fire's exact movement is hard to predict, she said.
"It's very erratic," Quinn said. "It's moving in a lot of different directions. So I can't tell you exactly where it's moving. I'd have to see it on a map. But it's heading in the vicinity of these communities and also the horse stables. So they're just trying to get everybody out so that there's no issue."
Crews were working Tuesday morning to contain the main fire, with boundaries of Beck Boulevard to the north, Sabal Palm Road to the south, Picayune State Park to the east and Collier Boulevard to the west.
Firefighters continued extinguishing small fires Tuesday that popped up on the outskirts of the Naples Lakes community, just east of Collier Boulevard on Rattlesnake Hammock Road.
Julie Cerach, who lives on Cerromar Drive, said she saw 40-50-foot flames burning the trees Monday night in a wooded area abutting Naples Lakes and Serenity Park. Firefighters arrived to battle the fire. A smaller fire started burning around lunchtime Tuesday.
“When I walked out my front door, I looked to the left and I saw flames,” she said. “I’m used to seeing it on the news in California, and I like it that way.”
Brian Roe, Naples Lakes’ general manager, said his office has kept in communication with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office and firefighters and has been sending emails to residents. Staff also watered the lawn nearest to Collier Boulevard, he said.
The Sheriff’s Office has asked residents to stay inside as much as possible to stay out of the way of firefighters, Roe said. No Naples Lakes homes have been damaged.
“There is no evacuation right now,” Roe said. “People can choose to leave if they’d like, but there is no talk at this point of evacuation.”
Virginia Vinci, a Naples Lakes resident, said she was prepared to leave if necessary.
“I packed a bag for like three days of clothes,” she said. “I packed my dog’s bag, dog food and what I would need for him. I had it in the trunk of my car.”
Heavy smoke and the threat of fire didn’t keep people off Naples Lakes’ golf course and driving range Tuesday afternoon.
Paul Caprioli, John Hill and Jack Couzens were on the greens, just as they are every Tuesday, they said. The smoke was noticeable, but it wasn’t a problem, Caprioli said.
“Typical bad game,” he joked.
Early Tuesday bulldozers were still working the fire, said Ed Vuolo, Forest Area Supervisor for the Florida Forest Service.
"We're going to continue to improve the (fire) line," Vuolo said. "They've got a strike team of brush trucks coming in to help start cooling off the line, from where we contained it within the dozer lines."
(Photo: Dorothy Edwards/Naples Daily News)
As bulldozers crunched through the brittle brush and flames greedily climbed the dry trees across from her property, Cindy Murlowski, owner of the Belle Meade Ranch, was calling local stables to find a safe spot for the five horses still left at her ranch.
"We got a trailer coming to take the horses off property and I'm trying to find some place because all the other horses that left here, there were over 150, they're all around scattered and everybody is full," Murlowski said. "We'll stay as long as we can."
Murlowski said she, her helpers and retired show and trailer horses stayed at first because it appeared that they would be safe.
"We stayed because we were all cleared and they were pretty confident at that time that we were safe," she said.
But then the wind shifted.
"Even up until this morning it was pretty quiet and then it picked up again," Murlowski said.
She said she has never seen a fire like this so close to her property.
"We always had it away from us," Murlowski said. "Now it's right on top of us."
The wind, carrying embers and debris through the air, prompted Murlowski, her co-owner Joanne Pasqua and other helpers to rush to the other side of the ranch after a small fire sparked up on a neighboring property.
With shovels and hoses they frantically worked to put out the flames.
"This is nuts," Pasqua said. "I guess you have to have a lot of respect for fire. I mean it happened like that. Unbelievable."
Vuolo said he didn't know how much area the fire covered as of Tuesday, but the blaze stretched to about 3,500 acres Monday.
A stretch of Collier Boulevard between Rattlesnake Hammock Road and Golden Gate Parkway is being closed to traffic Tuesday due to heavy smoke, limited visibility and fire burning on both sides of the road, said Dan Summer, Collier County’s emergency management director.
(Photo: Dorothy Edwards/Naples Daily News)
Collier government officials said they continued Tuesday to monitor the fire. Weather conditions today with low humidity and winds approaching 16 mph out of the east will continue to generate concerns for this fire, the cause of which is still under investigation, county officials said.
No structures were lost Monday and no injuries were reported.
The Bureau of Emergency Services is asking residents who live in the area to monitor conditions and local media for a possible changes, which may include an evacuation.
The Collier County Bureau of Emergency Services has opened the Emergency Information Hotline to respond to questions about the wildfire threat in eastern Collier County. The hotline numbers are (239) 252-8444 or 311 (Collier County only) and will be open until further notice.
Follow updates to the fire at naplesnews.com throughout the day.