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Florida firefighters reopen section of I-95

By the CNN Wire Staff

A Florida Power and Light Co. worker this week throws dirt on a smoldering electric pole destroyed in a central Florida blaze.
A Florida Power and Light Co. worker this week throws dirt on a smoldering electric pole destroyed in a central Florida blaze.
  • NEW: Section of I-95 reopens in south Florida
  • Winds of up to 25 mph are forecast for Wednesday night
  • No residences are currently in danger
  • Progress is made on a smaller blaze in St. Johns County

(CNN) -- Firefighters battling a central Florida blaze were scrambling to get ahead of gusty winds that could hamper efforts to battle the fire, which has burned more than 16,000 acres and closed a stretch of Interstate 95 for a time Wednesday.

The fire, which began Monday in northern Brevard and southern Volusia counties, has destroyed a mobile home, several outbuildings and several camp structures, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said.

As of Wednesday, however, "no residences seem to be in immediate danger," said Sterling Ivey, department spokesman.

A 21-mile stretch of I-95 in the two counties was shut down for a few hours because of heavy smoke on Wednesday, the Florida Department of Transportation said. It reopened before 4:30 p.m.

More than 150 personnel have been deployed to help fight the blaze, called the Iron Horse Fire, according to the Florida Division of Forestry.

The fire is 25% contained, said Cliff Frazier, a wildfire mitigation specialist with the Florida Division of Forestry, and has burned 16,294 acres.

Winds were pushing much of the smoke out to sea, Frazier said. No new structures appeared to be in danger.

Winds of 15 mph were forecast Wednesday morning, increasing to 25 mph by evening, Annaleasa Winter, a Division of Forestry spokeswoman, told CNN affiliate WPBF. The winds will be out of the northeast and could threaten the western fire lines, she said.

Firefighters on Wednesday were planning to help "mop up those edges" and put out hot spots, Winter said.

Mike Townsend's property in Brevard County was among those scorched by the fire.

"It's heartbreaking," he told WPBF tearfully. "I developed this piece of property by myself. It's a rough thing. It's a rough thing to go through."

Firefighters were making progress on a second blaze that has burned close to 2,000 acres in St. Johns County, south of State Road 206 on Interstate 95 below St. Augustine, officials said.

Brush fire closes I-95 in Florida
  • Florida
  • Wildfires

Kimberley Prosser of the Brevard County Fire Department said the agency sent two emergency strike teams as a precaution to two communities near the fire, Lake Harney Woods in Volusia County and Blountes Ridge in Brevard County.

A voluntary evacuation in the city of Mims was lifted Tuesday evening and shelters were closed, according to the Brevard County Office of Emergency Management. The agency reported a Brevard firefighter suffered second-degree burns to the face.

The cause of both fires is not yet known. Frazier said Tuesday the combination of severe freezes this winter that killed surface vegetation and low rain totals made conditions ripe for a fire.

The South Florida Water Management District said Wednesday the central and southern portions of the state are experiencing "extreme dry conditions." The period between October 2010 and February 2011 was the driest period in southern Florida in 80 years, the district said.

"Over the last five months, the district's 16-county region has received a total of 5.69 inches, less than half the average rainfall for that period, or 6.54 inches below average," the district said in a statement. Lake Okeechobee is more than 2 feet below its historical average for this time of year.

Meanwhile, residents near the Iron Horse Fire recalled wildfires that swept the area in 1998, saying the recent blaze brings back their worry and anxiety.

In 1998, "We left about 11 o'clock at night and then we didn't know if we had a home the next morning," Denise Kemp told WPBF.

Her home survived. But she said the current blaze has her worried because of its size and the changing wind directions.

CNN's Ashley Hayes, Jeremy Ryan, John Couwels and Rich Phillips contributed to this report