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Rain stalls spread of 82,000 acre wildfire, but hotspots still a problem

Posted at 7:31 PM, May 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-14 19:31:48-04

Several wildfires burning in eastern Collier County doubled in size late last week to over 80,000 acres total, known collectively as the Avian Complex Fire. 338 firefighters from around the country are battling the blaze in the Big Cypress National Preserve.

While rainfall Sunday and Monday has improved fire conditions and lessened smoke impacts in the area, the rain hasn't been enough to put out the fire. Stephen Spradley, spokesman for Southern Area Incident Management's Gold Team, said the chance of lightning this week could make things worse.

"As long as you have lightning, you do have the potential for new wildfires," Spradley said. "There's always that concern with lightning."

Lightning has already been determined to be the cause of several wildfires in Southwest Florida this past winter and spring. With the area's long drought, the recent rains have helped firefighters knock down the flames in the Avian Complex Fire - but so far, it hasn't been enough to extinguish the fire.

"Once the rain passes, the heat will dry out the surrounding fuels, and we'll have flames again," Spradley said.

He said the rain has mostly helped put down flames in grassy areas, but hasn't penetrated the ground in areas with more tree cover.

"We still have a lot of heat, so we're going to need an extended period of substantial rain," Spradley said. "There's still a lot of heat in the stumps, and the thicker, heavier fuels."

He said firefighters can keep working in the rain, but not if the threat of lightning comes with it.

"Any time lightning is a factor...they do seek shelter," he said.

Monday, the Loop Road in Big Cypress was re-opened. Several more roads and trails in the Preserve remain closed due to fire and smoke concerns.