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Progress reported in fight against Florida fires

Miami fire
Lightning sparked at least one new fire near Miami  

Clinton to visit Thursday

July 8, 1998
Web posted at: 11:39 p.m. EDT (0339 GMT)

DELAND, Florida (CNN) -- Aided by rainstorms, firefighters made progress Wednesday in controlling wildfires that have been ravaging Florida for more than a month.

Between 70 to 80 percent of the fires burning in and around Flagler, St. Johns and Volusia counties were considered to be contained, but none were deemed officially extinguished. And officials said the rains would need to continue for 10 days to two weeks before the fire crisis could be considered over.

More than 1,300 firefighters from all across the country were still at work in northeast Florida, based at a camp near DeLand in Volusia County. Aided by National Guard troops, the firefighters went from tree to tree in burned areas Wednesday, looking for hot spots that might reignite.

In Florida, some firefighters waiting for action

Florida: Lightning capital of the world

On Thursday, President Clinton was scheduled to arrive in Volusia County to meet with residents, firefighters and relief workers.

One new fire did flare up Wednesday near Miami in western Dade County. About 100 acres were burned in the blaze, which was believed to have been ignited by lightning. No structures were threatened in the sparsely populated area.

Firefighters rake through forest ash looking for hot spots  

Near the town of Pierson, in Volusia County, officials deliberately ignited a fire Wednesday, trying to use a "controlled burn" to prevent wildfires from threatening the town and larger cities to the east. The maneuver was also done to help protect Pierson's lucrative fern farms, a $10 million-a-year industry.

"At first glance, it may seem odd for us [to be] setting fires, but it makes sense," said Barry O'Neill, a firefighter from Memphis, Tennessee.

The 600-acre fire was ignited by dropping pingpong balls filled with antifreeze and a flammable chemical from a helicopter onto the volatile scrub forest.

Since Memorial Day, wildfires sparked by unusually hot, dry weather have charred more than 484,000 acres in the Sunshine State.

Correspondent Charles Zewe contributed to this report.

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