Lightining Sparks Three Fires In Florida

Lightning strikes touched off three fires in west Miami-Dade on Wednesday, sending smoke and light ash as far east as Biscayne Bay.

Concern over the fires' paths prompted the closure of Krome Avenue between Okeechobee Road and Tamiami Trail, shutting off traffic on the heavily traveled roadway between Broward and Miami-Dade.

Neither the fires nor the haze that descended over much of the county by nightfall posed a threat to life or property, according to the Miami-Dade Fire Department.

''It's all natural products that are burning -- no structures or anything that would be dangerous,'' said Lt. Eric Baum, a department spokesman.

The largest of the fires -- a 300- to 400-acre swath east of Krome Avenue near Tamiami Trail -- and at least one smaller fire were still burning by the end of the night.

That means the smoky conditions are expected to last through today, Baum said.

''There's going to be a lot of smoke and ash in most parts of Miami-Dade County, and we want people to be aware of that,'' he said.

''We don't foresee it being a problem,'' Baum added, but as a precaution ``those with central air should close the windows and have the air recirculate.''

Anyone experiencing breathing problems should call their doctor or 911, Baum said.

Although the smoky conditions are not a health risk, it did cause some concern -- and some inconvenience.

In Kendall, commuters had to peer through hazy intersections to make their way home. Shoppers at a Westchester plaza clutched their shirts over their mouths and dashed through the parking lot. And sports practice at Tamiami Park on Coral Way was canceled because of the smoke.

At the Latin American cafeteria on Coral Way and 29th Avenue, 11-year-old Sean Azari and his family had hoped to enjoy their Cuban food on the restaurant's outside deck. The smoke-filled air proved decidedly unappetizing.

''We thought it was fireworks. Lots of fireworks,'' Sean said.

Ruben Vega, playing volleyball with friends and family at Douglas Park in Miami, didn't let the smoke put a damper on his evening game -- despite the airborne irritants.

''This smoke is very strong,'' said Vega, 36. ``When you breathe in deep, it makes your throat itch.''

County fire officials as well as the Florida Division of Forestry spent Wednesday night monitoring the fires, but there were no plans to actively combat blazes as long as they posed no threat. The Florida Highway Patrol was keeping a close eye over driving conditions on Miami-Dade's roadways, including Florida's Turnpike.

As of late Wednesday, Krome Avenue was closed between Southwest Eighth Street and Okeechobee Road.

''That's because of the proximity to the fire, as well as the unpredictable nature of the wind and where fire is going,'' said FHP Sgt. Alex Annunziato.

It was unclear when Krome would reopen.

Although the haze also lingered over Miami International Airport, it did not create any unsafe conditions, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The largest area affected by the blaze was east of Krome Avenue westward to just before Florida's Turnpike, between Tamiami Trail and Southwest 41st Street.

Two smaller fires -- each about 40 acres -- flared up north of Southwest 41st Street west of the Turnpike. One was ''95 percent'' contained by 10 p.m., while the other continued to burn, Baum said.

The fires were likely set off by storms that passed through the western part of the county Wednesday afternoon.

About 4 p.m., Baum said, the department started to receive a flow of calls about smoke rising from the west.

``There were several eyewitnesses who saw the lightning strike and then smoke.''

The storms brought lightning, but no rain. Unseasonably dry weather means the underbrush is kindling-ready.

The county has seen less than half an inch of rain since July 1 -- compared to 5.67 inches for the first week of July last year.

''We're very busy,'' said Susan Ethridge, of the Florida Division of Forestry. ``It's supposed to be the rainy season.''

Herald staff writers Karl Ross, Elaine De Valle and Herald writer Rebecca Dellagloria contributed to this report.

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