I-75 closed by brush fire smoke in MHillsborough County

5:52 AM, Feb 22, 2011   |    comments
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Wimauma, Florida -- Smoke from a 125-acre brush fire has closed  Interstate 75 in southern Hillsborough County.

The Highway Patrol says the northbound lanes are closed from Moccasin Wallow Road to College Avenue.  The southbound lanes are blocked at College Avenue. 

Earlier story:

Wimauma, FL -- You might think folks living in the southern part of Hillsborough County would be breathing a bit easier after firefighters knocked down a huge brush fire earlier in the day.

But you'd be wrong. In fact, it's left some with even more trouble breathing.

The fire broke out in the Little Manatee River State Park near the Hillsborough-Manatee County line. Although the flames are under control, smoke is now the bigger threat.

Photo Gallery: Hillsborough County Brush Fire

"It's just hard to get around, hard to breath," said Ron Marme as he pushed a shopping cart into the Publix on Highway 301.

Even on the best of days it's hard for Marme to catch his breath. Now, thick smoke hanging in the air near his Sun City home is only making it worse.

"Oh, yeah. I can tell. Short of breath," he says. "It's getting bad."

That's the biggest concern now among firefighters who had to contain the blaze. A 25-acre controlled burn turned into a 125-acre uncontrolled burn when winds pushed the flames past safety breaks. That left firefighters rushing in, and some campers like Barbara and Jim Cooney, visiting from Alabama, opting to get out.

"They came and told us, if it got out of hand, we might have to evacuate," said Barbara.

The issue, say firefighters, is that overnight winds will die down and the smoke will settle over areas like South Riverview and Sun City, which is where hundreds, if not thousands, of elderly people live. Many of them, like Ron Marme, already face breathing challenges.

Patrick Keogh with the Hillsborough County Division of Forestry says the best advice is to stay inside. "I'd just advise people to keep the windows shut, and if they keep their air conditioners running it might help keep the smoke outside the houses," he said.

Overnight, fire officials plan to have one crew watching for hot spots and then four crews on hand in the morning to make sure that when the wind picks up again that flames don't flare up.

Firefighters say the only people forced to evacuate were park employees. One small building belonging to the park was damaged. There were no reports of injuries.

Eric Glasser, 10 News

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