Crews continue to tackle North Port wildfire

Posted at 1:35 PM, May 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-15 17:28:38-04

UPDATE MONDAY | The wildfire in North Port area spans 3,500 acres and is now 35 percent contained, authorities said.

According to crews on scene, the fire was one of the fastest running fires they have ever fought. Saturday it grew 200 acres per half hour.

Every piece of equipment in the Myakka district was at this fire Saturday night. Crews also came in from out of state. 

Crews from South Carolina have come to lend a helping hand because Myakka crews have been working round the clock since the fire broke out on Saturday. They are working to put out a four-to-five acre flare-up but say no homes are being threatened.

Patrick Mahoney with the forestry service says this is going to be their new benchmark year, surpassing 1998-99 when they had so many wildfires that North Port was evacuated.

Raintree Blvd at Price is currently shut down.

Authorities say that the smokey conditions could last up to a month.

UPDATE NOON | The wildfire in North Port area spans 3,500 acres and is 30% contained, authorities said.

A firefighting strike team from North Florida is on the scene to assist, a Florida Forest Service official said in a tweet. 

UPDATE 6 a.m. | Interstate 75 in south Sarasota County has reopened after fire crews attacked a 3,000 plus-acre wildfire that broke out Saturday near North Port.

The brush fire, referred to as the Raintree fire, is still burning and light smoke will remain an issue along the interstate today,  a Florida Forest Service official said in a tweet. 

UPDATE 10 p.m. | Fire is now 3,200 acres and 30 percent contained.  More than 200 bucket loads of water have been dumped on the fire.

Crews will continue using every tool at their disposal to fight the fire into the overnight hours, and until the fire is under control.  

"This is the worst I've ever seen it," said Patrick Mahoney with the Florida Forest Service Myakka River District.  

Florida's dry conditions are fueling yet another wildfire.  The smoke was so intense in the Griffin Preserve's Raintree fire in North Port that a nine mile stretch of I-75 had to be shut down Saturday.  Wind was pushing the flames faster than crews could keep up.  

"It grew from three acres to 2,000.  If you look at it, that's about 200 acres every half hour," said Mahoney.

The size of the fire required pulling all but one available crew from the region to fight it.  

"We are stretched extremely thin," Mahoney said.  

That left those on the front line in North Port to hope no other fires sparked nearby.  

"We love the peace and quiet out here.  It's isolated, but at this time every year, it's nerve racking," said Tom Ponzio, who lives near the fire.

Ponzio could see the smoke cloud more than 20 miles away and got rerouted heading home from work in Punta Gorda.  He's glad the fire has shifted away from his home.  Only one house is in the fire zone, and crews are optimistic they can keep the flames from hitting it and other properties.  

"It appears we are pinching this fire narrower and narrower, and that's exactly what we want to do," said North Port Fire Chief William Taaffe.

A few drops of rain late Saturday evening were a welcome sign.  Crews are now hoping to get an upper hand as they continue working the fire.  

Sunday morning, fire investigators will be out in Griffin Preserve trying to determine where the fire started and how.

UPDATE 8 p.m. | Fire is now 3,200 acres and 30 percent contained.


UPDATE 3 P.M. | Wildfire approaching 1,000 acres in size and 20 percent contained.

UPDATE 2:45 P.M. | Wildfire near North Port grows to 750 acres. 

ORIGINAL STORY | Interstate 75 is closed in both directions from Kings Highway to Toledo Blade in south Sarasota County, the Florida Highway Patrol said. 

The road closure stretches from Mile Marker 170 to Mile Marker 179.

The road closed shortly after 1 p.m. due to poor visibility from a wildfire in the vicinity of Mile Marker 173, state troopers said.

The fire is believed to cover about 10 acres at this time. There has been no word about evacuations. 

Motorists are encouraged to find an alternate route. 

This is a developing story. Stay with ABC Action News for updates.