Everglades Fire Blankets South Florida in Smoke

Firefighters are monitoring, not fighting the 19,500 acre wildfire.


June 10--Don't be surprised to see more ash on your car today.

Smoke as thick as fog blanketed West Palm Beach to Miami on Monday, generated by a 19,500-acre wildfire in the Everglades of western Broward County.

So far on Tuesday, the air quality was better with mostly clear conditions throughout the region.

But on Monday it rained ash on lawns, driveways and cars and cut visibility to a quarter of a mile on roadways. Health officials urged children, seniors and anyone with respiratory problems to remain indoors until the smoke clears.

"I've never seen smoke like this before," said Scott Peterich, spokesman for the Florida Forest Service, adding that firefighters are monitoring the fire rather than attempting to battle it. "It's so massive that about the only thing we can do is hope that it burns itself out."

While there was a storm near the fire on Monday afternoon, it didn't produce enough rain to slow it down. Instead, its winds pushed the flames to the east, threatening the Florida Power and Light power lines that run along U.S. 27, Peterich said.

The fire, possibly ignited by a lightning strike, broke out on Saturday afternoon about five miles west of U.S. 27 and five miles north of Alligator Alley. By Monday, it covered almost 30 square miles.

Helping to nurture the fire early in the day were light winds and a slight temperature inversion, holding the smoke near the ground, said Bob Ebaugh, of the National Weather Service in Miami.

"Until we start getting some sort of velocity on the wind, we're going to continue in murky conditions," he said.

Monica Pognon, with the Broward County Environmental Protection and Growth Management Department, said several children's summer camps called her office on Monday to inquire about the air quality.

"We've been telling all of the camps to keep youngsters inside, to not have them playing outdoors," she said. "Even healthy people can be affected," she explained, "as they can get headaches or become light-headed."

A lack of rain in the past week has made conditions prime for wildfire, drying out the sawgrass and other swamp vegetation, officials said. The rainy season started in late May, but the region this month has received about .5 inches less rain than normal.

"This is something you'd expect to see during the dry season," said Jan Lederman, of Hollywood, a trained weather spotter. "From my experience, this is pretty unusual -- to have a smoke advisory in what is usually the wettest month of the year."

The Florida Highway Patrol temporarily closed U.S. 27 from Interstate 75 to the Palm Beach County line on Monday morning, when the smoke was thickest. The highway was reopened at 8:30 a.m.

The ashes from the fire fell on cars across the region but mainly those parked in the western suburbs.

"I had just detailed my white car the day before, and now it's a mess," said Jim Lushine, a retired weather forecaster from Pembroke Pines.

Staff researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.

kkaye@tribune.com or 561-243-6530

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