Wildfire Burns Land Near Kennedy Space Center

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. --

Crews are fighting a major wildfire that is burning at Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday. It's burning just a few miles from the space shuttle Endeavour.

The fire has burned 358 acres and officials said it is mostly contained. Crews said they will be working throughout the night.

NASA said it is trying to prepare for Friday's historic launch, which is Endeavour's last mission.

The fire is burning right next to the countdown clock near the NASA press site, just three miles from launch pad 39-A.

NASA officials said it's not affecting operations, but if the fire continues burning in that direction and firefighters can't stop it, it will cut off access to the launch pad.

Flames, 20 feet tall, raced across the brush within three miles of the space shuttle launch pad, shrouding Endeavour in thick brown smoke and creating a fiery spectacle.

While Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge and space center firefighters tried to stop it, NASA officials insisted it would have no bearing on getting Endeavour off the ground.

"It doesn't look like there is going to be any impact to Endeavour's launch or preparations for that," said Candrea Thomas, NASA Spokesperson.

The cause of the fire is not known, but it appeared to start in a wooded area. The space center was hit by more than 100 lightning bolts Monday evening.

Steady winds kept the fire moving closer to the crawler way and the primary access road to the shuttle launch pad.

NASA officials quelled rumors among hundreds of journalists setting up for launch coverage that the press site was not being affected.

"There is no evacuation," shuttle program manager Mike Moses said.

All of this comes as NASA prepares for one of the highest profile missions in years.

NASA was still coordinating a visit from the first family and Gabrielle Giffords, the wife of the shuttle commander who was shot in the head in January.

The launch team said all the outside attention on the mission shouldn't be a distraction.

"We don't ever see them. We are on our consoles doing our jobs not running around the halls of the building seeing people wandering through the building," Moses said.

They are hoping to stop the fire at the barge canal, but it is rare to have a brush fire that close to the pad and it has never happened during a countdown.

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