MIAMI – Firefighters were battling a fast-moving, massive blaze and clouds of thick smoke that prompted evacuations and highway closures in central Florida, though tempered in part by heavy downpours.
The fire, which began on Monday, spread quickly. By dawn on Tuesday, it had swept over an area of more than 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares), forcing hard-hit Brevard County to declare a state of emergency.
Schools were closed, many homes were evacuated and other residents were asked to take precautions and be prepared to deal with the effects of smoke for several days to come.
“We are advising people to use extreme caution,” said Cliff Frazier, spokesman for the Florida Division of Forestry.
Emergency response officials did not report any injuries so far.
Strong winds spread the fire and smoke from Brevard County, east of Orlando, to Volusia County in the north, where the local emergency personnel said about 20 homes were evacuated in Scottsmoor.
The flames shut down close to 30 miles (45 kilometers) of the I-95, a major interstate highway that runs through Florida, from late Monday to early Tuesday, snarling traffic for tens of thousands of commuters.
But heavy rainfall helped improve visibility and facilitated efforts by firefighters.