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Western Everglades wildfire: flames moving southwest, roads and trails closing, evacuations drawing

 Wildfire in Big Cypress National Preserve within the Florida Everglades is burning through acerage, moving to the southwest, shutting down roads and trails and putting residents in the heavily wooded region on notice that evacuations are escalating
National Park Service
Wildfire in Big Cypress National Preserve within the Florida Everglades is burning through acerage, moving to the southwest, shutting down roads and trails and putting residents in the heavily wooded region on notice that evacuations are escalating

The 10-day-old Sandy Wildfire in the western Everglades is raging on despite best efforts of more than 100 state, federal firefighters

More than 100 state and federal firefighters digging fire lines, pilots in helicopters and planes dropping thousands of tons of water every hour, and Saturday brings still-higher, still-bigger billowing smoke from the Sandy Wildfire twelve days after a bolt of lightning started it all.

Smoke and haze created by the 16,600-acre wildfire forced the Florida Highway Patrol to close a 58-mile stretch of U.S. 41 from Miami-Dade to Collier counties Friday, fearing drivers may not slow down enough to avoid a pile-up due to slow-downs.

"Travelers should be aware of potential closures and use caution when driving on U.S. 41," Hoopes said. "Vehicles should travel slowly and be aware of their surroundings and possible fire equipment entering and leaving the road."

Specific evacuations entered phase two of three Friday as the blaze, at 35% contained, was still growing to its southwest.

There was less than two-tenths of an inch of rain in the Big Cypress National Preserve in April. No rain has fallen there so far this month, according to the South Florida Water Management District.

And May 21 - the first rainy "summer season" day in South Florida on average - is a week away, according to the National Weather Service.

Hoopes, the wildfire information officer, said the Sandy Fire continues to burn through thick stands of pines, cypress, and underbrush making fighting the fire difficult because the land-based equipment often cannot get to the flames.

Travelers should be aware of potential closures and use caution when driving on 41. Vehicles should travel slowly and be aware of their surroundings and possible fire equipment entering and leaving the road, Hoopes said.

Road closures remain in effect west of 11 Mile Road, east of Monument Trail, and south of Mud Lake, Little Deer, Oasis Trail and Lost Dog, including the Florida Trail from the Oasis Visitor Center.

Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to accelerate change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health. 

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Tom Bayles and Michael Braun