Brush fire on I-75 causes traffic headaches for Manatee motorists

acastillo@bradenton.comJuly 2, 2014 

Traffic on northbound Interstate 75 backs up as it approaches a detour Tuesday evening at I-275 on after a brush fire near the Hillsborough-Manatee county line prompted officials to temporarily close a 12 mile-section of I-75. PAUL VIDELA/Bradenton Herald

PVIDELA@BRADENTON.COM Buy Photo

MANATEE -- A huge brush fire Tuesday closed a 12-mile section of Interstate 75 in Manatee County -- and caused plenty of headaches for motorists.

Florida Highway Patrol closed parts of northbound and southbound lanes because of the fire at mile marker 233 in northern Manatee. The massive fire began in Hillsborough County.

"At some point (the brush fire) did jump into the median and visibility was greatly affected," said FHP Lt. Gregory Bueno. "For everybody's safety, we had to shut down the road because the fire was in such close proximity."

When the fire was initially reported by FHP, I-75 was closed southbound at exit 240 and northbound at exit 228.

The fire, which got close to the shoulder of the road at one point, was accompanied by roasting 90-plus degree temperatures.

"It was just too dangerous," he said over the phone Tuesday evening.

As of 9 p.m. Tuesday, all lanes were open. FHP continued to maintain units on scene.

During the closure, on I-75 near exit 228, traffic moved at a snail's pace.

Construction worker Ramiro Alvarez, 38, decided to wait out the traffic jam and stop for gas at a Circle K station at the corner of U.S. 41 North and Moccasin Willow Road in Palmetto.

As he sipped a lime-colored sports drink, Alvarez said he had been stuck in traffic for almost 40 minutes.

"I wanted to sleep from the boredom," he said in Spanish. "It was also very hot."

Griffin Gilliam, 19, stopped at the station for directions. The Florida State University finance major was trying to reach Tallahassee.

Gilliam said he had been stuck on I-75 for about 30 minutes and needed a break. Gilliam bought a small bag of Planters salted peanuts after getting directions from an older man at the gas station.

"It wasn't too bad at all," he said. "I just got a new car so I'm not really in a bad mood."

Khaled Eraq, who works at Country Deli Store across the street from the gas station, said a handful of customers emerged from the traffic jam and told him about it.

"It was just crazy, as they said," he said. "I've never seen something like people come in and tell me (the traffic jam) was that big."

Back at the Circle K station, Apollo Beach resident Brandylyn Landers shared her experience.

"I've been on there about a little more than an hour," the 39-year-old said. "It's miserable. Normally we get a notification because I commute everyday. But today wasn't good... and I'm kind of shocked that you can close the interstate in both directions for an unnamed amount of time."

Landers, a secretary for a Sarasota church, had a container of Ben & Jerry's ice cream in her right hand and a bottle of Perrier water in her left.

"I could be disgruntled," she said with a smile, "but then I'll be that woman they interview that's all grouchy -- and I have ice cream."

Amaris Castillo, Law Enforcement/Island Reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. You can follow her on Twitter@AmarisCastillo.

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