Nearly 2,300-acre wildfire in Starkey Park in west Pasco County 75% contained

75% contained as of Monday morning
Posted at 12:58 PM, May 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-09 18:47:48-04

THE LATEST | River Ridge Middle School and High School's start and end times will be moved to 10:45 a.m. and 5:10 p.m. respectively. Officials say parents will be called by 6:00 a.m. Tuesday if there are changes to other school schedules.

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Three schools have closed on Monday after a wildfire started in Pasco County on Saturday.

River Ridge Middle School, River Ridge High School, and Cypress Elementary School announced that the schools will be closed on Monday due to excessive smoke after a massive fire started in the area on Saturday.

Officials are telling parents to not bring students to campus. Students already on school grounds can stay inside the school until the buses come back to pick them up.

Cypress Elementary School also announced that they would be closing today due to wildfire smoke.

The Pasco County School district released the following statement on Facebook:

The school district told ABC Action News that more schools may see closures if the wind shifts.

"Staff monitored the wildfires over the weekend, and smoke was not a problem, but winds have shifted and now the smoke is blowing toward the school. Weather and wind conditions may cause more closings until this fire is completely extinguished," the school district released in a statement on Monday just after 9 a.m.

Pasco County and Florida Forest Service crews continued Sunday to battling a massive wildfire in Starkey Wilderness Park in Pasco County, officials said.

By Sunday morning, the wildfire had scorched 2,275 acres and stopped 1 1/2 miles from the Suncoast Parkway, also known as S.R. 589, officials said. Fire crews battling the blaze had it about half contained.

The fire was discovered Saturday morning in the scenic county part. The wildfire grew from 5 acres to 60 acres to 1000 acres then to more than 2,200 acres by Saturday night.

The Florida Forest Service had an airplane and six tractors on the scene. It also requested a Florida National Guard helicopter to assist in battling the blaze.

The park is closed through Sunday, May 14.

Suncoast Parkway remains closed from SR 52 to SR 54 in Pasco. 

Residents in Bexley Ranch subdivision now are breathing a little easier. 

Salvation Army will now only be accepting donations at 7745 Ridge Rd. in Port Richey through Friday, May 12 at 5:00 p.m.

"It was a little scary for sure, so we're glad to see the improvement," said Bexley resident Cheyenne Gunn.

The giant smoke plume surrounding the neighborhood northeast of the Suncoast Parkway and S.R. 54 interchange spanned the sky for miles. The source was the 2,200 acre wildfire burning in  the Starkey Wilderness Park.

"At first, I thought we were going to die," said Gabby Gray, who was visiting her Aunt Cheyenne at Bexley.

The fire has not been deadly, but has come dangerously close to a major highway, the Suncoast Parkway. And Saturday, crews feared the flames could jump the road and devastate dozens of brand new homes at Bexley Ranch.

"We saw a bunch of ashes and smoke and like a big giant blob in the sky," Gray said.

Embers and ash were floating around homes all day. Thanks to calming winds, a voluntary evacuation for the community was lifted Saturday evening. But everyone in the area is still preparing for the worst.

"We just packed all our stuff up just in case it got really crazy," said Gray.

Fire crews will be keeping close watch at Starkey Park for the next several days. It will remain off limits to visitors Sunday. And the county is expanding its burn ban to include no campfires or even barbecuing at all county parks.

"Folks, we need the community's help as well to keep the number of fires down," Pasco County Emergency Management director Kevin Guthrie said.

Meanwhile, everyone is looking to the smoky sky, hoping for a little relief.

"We need rain soon," said Gunn.

A few buildings inside Starkey Park and several trail markers have been damaged in the fire. But since the winds have decreased, crews are optimistic the flames won't spread beyond the immediate area.


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