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Businesses impacted by road closure due to smoke

Posted at 8:02 PM, Mar 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-06 20:02:41-05

The wildfire in the Picayune Strand State Forest was supposed to be a prescribed burn to prevent wildfires. Florida Highway Patrol has had to periodically close portions of U.S. 41, between State Route 29 and County Road 92, due to smoke over the road.

Port of the Islands Marina is right in the middle of that stretch of highway. Gary Eichler, who runs Double R's Fishing and Tours, said his captains and their clients couldn't get to the boats at the marina during the road closures.

"It's a couple of thousand dollars in business," Eichler said. "I don't understand why you would do a prescribed burn in the busiest month of the tourist season."

But according to the Florida Forest Service, humidity, wind direction and other factors were favorable when the fire was set Friday.

'"When the fire was started that day, they were within that prescription," said Clark Ryals of the Florida Forest Service. "We got a weird wind shift that was not predicted (in the) modeling, and when that happened, it jumped the line."

Mike Randall, who owns Naples Boat Rentals at Port of the Islands Marina, said the road closures hurt during the busy tourist season.

"You really need to count on those dollars to get through," Randall said. "That's why it's disturbing why they would do a controlled burn when we know it's a windy season. The winds can change within five minutes."

Last year, a wildfire in Picayune Strand got out of control and forced evacuations before destroying several rural houses. Randall hopes fire crews can get the current fire contained before it comes to that.

"Losing money is one thing," he said. "I just hope people don't lose any homes."

Ryals said that winds were expected shift to the north Tuesday evening, away from U.S. 41.