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Fires inch closer to Floridians' homes

Story Highlights

• NEW: "Several hundred" families evacuated from fire's path
100,000-plus-acre Bugaboo fire in Florida jumps fire line to the west
Mother bear and cub rescued from Florida fire
Florida, Georgia fire crews fight flames against dry weather, higher winds
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LAKE CITY, Florida (CNN) -- Columbia County ordered evacuations Monday about three miles east of U.S. Hwy. 441 after the 100,000-plus-acre Bugaboo fire in northern Florida jumped a fire line and spread west, according to county spokesman Harvey Campbell.

Campbell said "several hundred" families were being evacuated from a sparsely populated area as a precaution because high winds are still pushing the fire.

"We're hitting it very hard with everything we have," said Florida Division of Forestry spokeswoman Annaleasa Winter. (Watch why firefighters say Monday is critical to battling the blaze Video)

"The good news is the other side of the fire, we've made significant progress. About 50 percent of the fire is under good control. It's just this western side ... unfortunately that's the way the wind is blowing."

"If we can just get through this evening and tomorrow then things should begin to calm down on Wednesday," she said.

Campbell said the next few days will be "threatening" during a Columbia County briefing about the Bugaboo fire.

"We get some winds and certainly our smoke situation gets better, but then the fire becomes more threatening," he said. "And so what we want to do is ask people to be vigilant, stay tuned to television and radio stations on the latest status of the fire." (Watch why a break in the weather helps firefighters but not motorists Video)

Evacuations on the horizon

Campbell said the county is prepared to order evacuations should that become necessary, and residents should be on alert.

Mike Quesinberry with Southern Area Incident Management said efforts to contain the fire are progressing, but much work remains.

"We're still going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 percent containment today," he said. "Right now we're in pretty good shape, we just need to hope that the humidity holds in here today and the winds stay low. We're close."

Miles of scorched earth

More than 200 fires in Florida have scorched more than 200,000 acres, the Florida Division of Forestry said. More than half that destruction has come from the Bugaboo fire.

Heavy smoke from a complex of fires in South Florida's Big Cypress National Preserve forced the closure of Alligator Alley -- the stretch of Interstate 75 that crosses the preserve west of Miami -- from State Route 29 to the east gate toll plaza in Broward County, the state Emergency Operations Center said.

In Georgia, meanwhile, a section of the fire that is plaguing Columbia County -- which Georgia is calling the Bugaboo Scrub fire -- has burned more than 130,000 acres in that state, said Kris Eriksen, manager of the joint information center.

The fire was ignited by lightning May 5 on Bugaboo Island in Georgia's Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, she said.

Georgia has 41 active wildfires on more than 260,000 acres, authorities said.

Fire officials say many of the blazes were sparked by lightning, and dry weather helped them spread quickly.

Mama bear, baby bear rescued

Amid the firefighting, authorities described the rescue of a bear and her cub. They had apparently fled the fires, and the mother bear was on the ground by a tree guarding her cub, who was 65 feet in the air, said Karen Parker of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

A specialized team managed to dart the mother and the cub, who fell from the tree into a large tarp set up to catch her. The mother's paws are badly blistered and she may have some lung damage; the cub was dehydrated, Parker said.

The 3-month-old cub was rehydrated and is "doing fine," Parker said, while the adult bear is in guarded condition with concerns about lung damage.

Parker said officials found a lip tattoo on the mother bear, indicating she was being tracked, and learned she is 18 years old.

Meanwhile, Interstates 75 and 10 in the vicinity of the fire remain closed, although officials said some traffic is being allowed through when possible to relieve congestion.

No win with wind

It's a battle not only against raging wildfires, but also against time. "The weather will throw us some challenges this week," said Tony Edwards of the National Weather Service.

"Humidity is expected to drop, but high pressure will build and conditions will become hotter and drier. Winds are expected to pick up speed as well, which can help fan the flames."

Though there is often rain this time of year, the forecast offered little precipitation for the short term.

"We are nervous. Keeping our fingers crossed," said Russell Hubright with the South Carolina Forestry Commission, who is helping Florida face the devastating fires.

A lieutenant with the Osceola County Fire-Rescue Department said the focus for Monday is "structural protection."

"Basically what we do is when the fire comes up, we try to keep it from jumping the lines to protect the neighborhood so that way the houses don't catch on fire," Lt. Sean Miller told CNN.

Dozens of fire trucks took off early Monday from Lake City, ready to take over efforts to protect homes and other structures.

Miller told CNN firefighters were working to make sure debris is off of peoples' roofs, and trees around the areas are being knocked down to protect homes.

Timber companies have loaned about 20 tractors and 45 people to aid in the effort, the Florida Division of Forestry said.

CNN's John Zarrella and Patrick Oppmann contributed to this report.

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