The thick smoke that blanketed the 18-Mile Stretch Thursday morning and could be smelled and seen well into the areas of the Upper Keys was from the massive wildfire burning in the Big Cypress National Preserve on the mainland.
The fire started at 60 acres last Saturday north of Highway 41 in Collier County and was burning more than 15,000 acres of grass, pine and cypress habitat by Thursday, according to the National Park Service. Smoke was so thick that state officials shut down traffic from State Road 29 in Collier County to Krome Avenue in Miami-Dade County Thursday morning, said Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Gregory Bueno.
Wildfires are common in the Florida this time of year and are an essential part of a healthy Everglades ecosystem, but the cause of what National Parks Service officials are calling the Parliament fire was not known as of Thursday.
“In the long term, the fire will benefit the ecosystem by renewing habitat and promoting ecological diversity,” Big Cypress National Preserve Superintendent Tamara Whittington said in a statement.
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The smell of smoke was so noticeable in Key Largo that many residents were calling 911 dispatchers to complain, said Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Becky Herrin.
“We thank you for your concern but there is no action we can take that will resolve the issue at this time,” Herrin said in a statement Thursday morning.
The smoke was not related to a wildfire that prompted officials to close the 18-Mile Stretch and Card Sound Road Monday evening, said Scott Peterich, spokesman with the Florida Forest Service. The Stretch and Card Sound link Key Largo to Florida City.
“That is out,” he said.
Monday’s fire likely started when a vehicle somehow ignited a dry patch of brush on the east side of Card Sound Road. It was first reported around 2 p.m. The blaze grew in size and moved west, eventually jumping U.S.1 around 5 p.m. The fire consumed more than 600 acres of land before firefighters with the Florida Park Service and Miami-Dade Fire-Rescue extinguished the flames.
David Goodhue: 305-440-3204