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High winds fuel large Everglades fire

A raging wildfire was expanding at the edge of the Everglades and West Miami-Dade Friday morning.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue spokesman Capt. Eric Baum said the fire was reported about 2:45 a.m. The fire spread quickly.

At about 6 a.m., the flames were extending along the Tamiami Trail from about 143rd to 150th Avenue. The flames could be seen from the Miccosukee Resort and Convention Center on Krome Avenue.

Baum said gusty conditions -- the National Weather Service reported east winds at 18 to 23 knots with gusts to around 35 knots -- were fueling the blaze. Canals and roads were keeping the flames from reaching developed areas. Miami-Dade firefighters and Department of Forestry officials were working in the area.

Baum urged drivers to use caution, as the smoke had reduced visibility along sections of Tamiami Trail near the western suburbs of Miami-Dade. No homes have been evacuated, but people with respiratory problems were advised to stay away from the area. The National Weather Service said the smoke may travel a considerable distance westward from the fire itself.

FIRE SEASON

Firefighters have been battling wildfires in Brevard and Volusia counties this week. According to forestry officials about 16,715 acres have been damaged in Brevard and Volusia, Florida Today reported.

Meteorologist Robert Molleda told the Miami Herald earlier this week that this fire season "could shape up to be a pretty bad" one.

A key index watched closely by the Florida Division of Forestry — soil moisture — has swung into the red danger zone across much of the landscape south of Lake Okeechobee, including the Everglades. A broader assessment that gauges humidity levels and fuel conditions ranked Broward County as the only county in the state at a “very high’’ risk for wildfire.

Fire season in Florida typically heats up in March and April, the last two months of the dry season. But an ongoing drought, which grew worse in February, has driven up the risk factors.

The National Weather Service recorded less than one-tenth of an inch of rain for the entire month in Miami-Dade and Broward. The South Florida Water Management District reported that average rainfall amounted to a third of an inch across a region stretching from south of Orlando to Key West.

Another factor heightens concerns. Freezes back in December killed or damaged cold-sensitive native plants that provide fire plenty of tinder, said Scott Peterich, wildfire mitigation specialist for the Everglades district of the forestry division.

“There are a lot of dead palm fronds out there to burn,’’ he said.

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/03/04/2097114/wild-fire-expands-in-the-everglades.html#ixzz1FdoAzD2P

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