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Blazes coming under control in Florida, officials say

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  • NEW: Most Florida wildfires contained Tuesday, officials say
  • 108 fires burning 17,000 acres of land in Florida
  • Official: Arson may be behind the blazes
  • Palm Bay officials say at least 50 homes were damaged or destroyed
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PALM BAY, Florida (CNN) -- Most wildfires across Florida were contained Tuesday, including a blaze that charred more than 3,500 acres and caused $9.6 million in damage in the city of Palm Bay.

Officials were hoping that calm winds would prevail, allowing them to make more progress in battling the flames.

"We do have pockets of flare-up and live activity," said Yvonne Martinez, spokeswoman for the Palm Beach Fire Department.

In the Palm Bay area, 162 homes were damaged or destroyed, she said, and 62 of those are uninhabitable.

Wind conditions were better Tuesday, said Palm Bay Fire Marshal Mike Couture. Damage assessment teams were using a grid system to examine the scorched areas, he said.

"Obviously, conditions are continuing to be dry," Couture said. "We desperately need rain. We don't have any, and we're not projected to get any."

No mandatory evacuations were in place in Palm Bay, located in Brevard County. But Couture cautioned residents who have left not to return yet, saying they could interfere with damage assessment teams and crews attempting to restore power. A shelter has been opened in a church.Video Watch Couture explain why the wildfires are still a threat »

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency earlier Monday as the fires spread, fed by drought conditions and strong winds. Crist activated the National Guard to help battle the blazes and help with evacuations.

As of Tuesday, 14 counties were affected by 108 wildfires, Crist told reporters, with 17,000 acres scorched. He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency had approved a federal grant to help the state recover from the fires. Video Watch aerial footage of the fire scorching acres of land »

"I just want to thank the people who are working hard on the ground," he said.

Four firefighters have been injured, Martinez said. A live power line fell on one Palm Bay firefighter, delivering a minor shock, officials said. He was flown to a hospital, where he was in stable condition Tuesday.

Two other firefighters from other agencies suffered heat exhaustion and dehydration Monday, but both were treated and released and were back on the job Tuesday, Martinez said. Details of the fourth firefighter's injuries were unknown, she said, but the injuries were not serious.

Couture said Tuesday that no deaths had resulted from the fire.

Schools in Palm Bay were closed Tuesday. See iReporters' photos of the blazes

Police Chief Bill Berger told reporters authorities suspect the fires might have been deliberately set because they began within hours of each other in separate locations. "People do this for fascination, for thrills ... the word is 'sick,' " he said.

Calls regarding suspicious activity were pouring in to his department, and six investigators have been assigned to follow leads, he said.

Officials said Monday a $15,000 reward was in place for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible for starting the fire.

Not all of Florida's drought-fueled fires, however, were contained. Dale Armstrong of the Florida Division of Forestry told reporters the Lowery fire in southern Brevard County had burned 4,800 acres as of Tuesday evening and was only 5 percent contained. That fire is in a rural area, where it is burning on county-owned land, he said. See how fires spread »

A 34-mile stretch of Interstate 95 was closed Tuesday because of encroaching flames and heavy smoke, said Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Kim Miller. Photo See photos of the wildfires »


A number of other communities have sent personnel and equipment to Palm Bay, Couture said.

"As the winds start to stay down ... we can do our job more efficient and quicker," he said, "and I think we're OK." Video Watch smoke billow from the fires »

CNN's Nick Valencia, Patty Lane and Janet DiGiacomo contributed to this report.

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