FIGHTING AN INFERNO
July 6, 1998
Light rain over the weekend helped firefighters contain the further spreading of wildfires in Florida, allowing more than 40,000 people to return home. Following a background report, Phil Ponce and guests discuss Florida's battle against wildfires.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
July 6, 1998
A discussion on Florida's fight against wildfires.
July 2, 1998
A report on the fires blazing through Florida.
May 22, 1998
Lee Hochberg reports on fires in Mexico.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the environmental issues.
The Florida Department of Agriculture's fire information page.
Maps of the damaged areas from the Florida Dept. of Agriculture.
The USDA National Forest Service
More than 40,000 residents return home.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: More than 40,000 residents of Central and Northeast Florida started going home today after state officials lifted a three-day-old mandatory evacuation order. It was imposed last week when hundreds of wildfires burned out of control. This couple--like many residents--found their home still standing but saw firsthand how close the flames had come. And although there were signs of relief, Florida Governor Lawton Chiles warned the battle against the wildfires is far from over.
GOVERNOR LAWTON CHILES, Florida: We did get quite a few new firefighters in yesterday, and we're getting more in, so we're able to rotate, and give some relief to some of the people who have been out for a long, long time. Overall, yesterday was a good day. We think today we will have sort of moderate weather--may have some severe thunderstorms this afternoon, which can be good and bad. The wind and the lightning can be very bad but if we get enough rain, you know, that can be good.
More than 450,000 acres burned.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The fires, which started Memorial Day Weekend, have consumed more than 450,000 acres. Nearly 200 homes have been destroyed, and the state says overall damage is estimated at at least $270 million. Firefighters from 47 states have been working with local and state officials around the clock in 100-degree heat, trying to put out more than 2,000 fires that started from record drought conditions, high winds, and lightning. So far, more than $100 million has been spent on the effort. Last week, high winds fanned fires all over Central and Northeast Florida. And when they got out of control, state officials ordered mandatory evacuations in Volusia, Brevard, and Flagler Counties. At one time nearly 60,000 people were ordered out of their homes.
On Saturday, conditions worsened; high winds nursed the wildfires, as flames crept closer and closer to residential neighborhoods. By Sunday, firefighters got a break when it rained. The winds died down and cooler temperatures allowed them to take control of a majority of the burning in Flagler County. Interstate 95, the main North-South highway in Florida, was reopened this afternoon, after being closed for almost a week from Jacksonville to Cape Canaveral. And residents of three counties are still on high alert as fires continue to burn.