Florida wildfire contained but still burning

In what could be the beginning of the end for Central Florida’s first major wildfire of the year, officials announced Sunday that crews have contained the fire, though it’s still far from controlled.

Light fire activity and humid conditions this weekend gave firefighters a chance to rein in the blaze as they built nearly 48 miles of 30-foot-wide fire lines around the perimeter, said Volusia County Fire Services spokeswoman Michelle Coats.

“It’s still burning inside those lines,” Coats said, adding that fire crews will let the fire continue until it burns all the fuel. “It can take weeks or days, depending on the weather.”

The Iron Horse fire, named after an Ormond Beach biker bar, consumed nearly 17,000 acres of largely uninhabited land in Brevard and Volusia counties while shutting down major roadways and summoning hundreds of firefighters from throughout the region starting Feb. 28.

Crews were busy Sunday dealing with the hottest sections, which were concentrated in the northern portion of the fire near Maytown Road, to prevent flare-ups. Coats said smoke will remain a problem in the area for some time, posing health risks for residents.

County and city crews are planning to scale back their involvement as the state Division of Forestry takes over containment and manages the smoldering spots, said spokeswoman Annaleasa Winter.

The ground needs several inches of saturating rain to cool all the organic material serving as fuel for the fire.

The fire’s containment did not come without sacrifice. Two Brevard County firefighters were injured this week, both receiving second-degree burns on their faces. Coats said the second firefighter, who was hurt Saturday, was treated and released from Halifax Health Medical Center in good condition.

The cause of the blaze has not yet been determined.

The massive effort to extinguish the brush fire will put pressure on local budgets. Dozens of bulldozers, fire engines, helicopters and regional personnel have been involved, including the state Division of Forestry; Volusia, Brevard, Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and several cities.

Winter said the esti- mated cost of the fire reached nearly half a million dollars for the Department of Forestry’s Orlando dis- trict. Diesel fuel was the largest expense.

If the fire continues, and costs exceed their budget, Winter said adjoining forestry districts will be have to cover the difference, up to $1 million.

Volusia County officials will calculate the cost this week, but Coats said they don’t expect any shortfalls.

Brevard County fire officials shut down all operations Sunday, said spokesman Jeff Taylor. He said officials should have a cost estimate by midweek.