SEBRING — A blaze near Venus, fueled by thick vegetation and fanned by heavy winds, broke out Thursday afternoon from 50 acres to 300.
It was 90 percent contained by Friday afternoon, but still very hot, according to Melissa Yunas, wildfire mitigation specialist with the Florida Forest Service. It was fanned by 17 mph winds Thursday afternoon.
“Not only was the grass catching fire, there were intense flames from trees catching on fire,” Yunas said. “It was faster, hotter and more extreme fire intensity that you would normally get.”
It was reported just before 2 p.m. Thursday by aerial spotters, two miles east of U.S. 27 and north of State Road 29, between Venus in Highlands County and Harrisburg in Glades County. Drought had depleted the pines, palmetto and eucalyptus of moisture, making them susceptible to fire. Yunas said the winds kept firefighters busy with heavy flames while dead plant material under the trees stored heat, fueling the flames in the canopy.
Since the fire, the area has received a tenth of an inch of rain, Yunas said: Not enough to cool the fire.
Seven firefighting bulldozers plowed containment lines around the fire. A fixed-wing pilot guided ground crews around it, since heavy smoke limited ground visibility. Yunas said a Bell UH-1H “Huey” firefighting helicopter made 36 water drops of 320 gallons each to cool the fire so bulldozer crews could plow control lines.
The fire threatened several pieces of logging equipment and destroyed one pickup truck, but didn’t affect any homes, Yunas said.
Area evacuations were voluntary. Yunas also warned motorists to avoid the area to let firefighters work safely, and to beware of smoke on U.S. 27 and SR 29.