Brush fires force interstate shutdown in southwestern Florida

Wildfire in wooded area.

Two Florida brush fires of 2,500 and 1,500 acres in size have resulted in state officials shutting down a section of Interstate 75.

The Florida Forest Service said two wildfires broke out Wednesday afternoon, May 13, in the Golden Gate vicinity of central Collier County, Florida. This is on the western edge of the Florida Everglades.

The Florida Highway Patrol said a toll section of I-75 known as Alligator Alley was shut down for about 20 miles, between Collier Boulevard in Naples and State Route 29 in the Miles City area. According to the Florida511 website, traffic was still stopped on sections of the highway as of 12 p.m. EDT today.

Unfortunately, conditions have been dry and windy lately, the perfect combination for wildfires to spark and spread. Wind gusts in the Naples area have been around 30 mph the past few days, and the city has received virtually no rainfall this month. On average, around 1 inch of rain would have fallen by mid-May. Southwestern Florida has been in a drought since mid-March 2020, and has gotten worse. This region of the Sunshine State is now in a severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

At 10 p.m. yesterday, the #22ndAveFire was estimated to be at least 1,500 acres and was 0% contained. The #36thAveFire was estimated at 2,500 acres and was 0% contained. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services tweeted this morning that the fires merged overnight and, together, the fire is now 10% contained.

The Collier County Sheriff’s Department has evacuated residents from about 30 homes in the Golden Gate Estates subdivision, and, according to WZVN-TV, the fire has destroyed several cars and trailers in that subdivision.

The Naples Daily News reported that the Collier County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were coordinating voluntary evacuations in areas near the fires.

Firefighters may get some help from Mother Nature. Even though the National Weather Service (NWS) is forecasting that wind gusts will reach 30 mph again today and Friday, there’s also a chance of showers each day.