A quarter-inch of rain brought little relief to firefighters battling about 50 wildfires in parched central Florida on Tuesday, and smoke from the blazes was blamed for auto accidents that killed four people.
Three homes and several outdoor structures have been destroyed so far in the fires that started April 21, but no homes were in immediate danger Tuesday.
“That rain is going to be dried up — we didn’t get much,” said Timber Weller, a specialist with the Florida Division of Forestry. “By the end of today, most of that water will have evaporated between the sun and the winds.”
Thick black smoke mixed with morning fog has caused dozens of car accidents. Two people died and 19 passengers on a bus were injured in four crashes on Monday.
Parts of Interstate 95 and the BeachLine Expressway, which runs from Orlando to the Atlantic Coast, will be closed to morning traffic until further notice, officials said.
“Obviously the people need to be real careful, careful about starting fires, be careful about not throwing used cigarettes out,” President Bush said Tuesday during a visit to the state. “They need to be mindful that these are dangerous conditions.”
Officials brace for lightning
Rain was expected to help some areas Tuesday afternoon, but officials worried that lightning could spark more blazes.
“We still have significant wildfire conditions and need a tremendous amount of rain to get back to normal levels,” New Smyrna Beach spokeswoman Shannon Lewis said Tuesday.
Gov. Jeb Bush declared a state of emergency on Monday night, deploying aviation units from the Florida National Guard. He also met with some of the 155 firefighters working to contain a fire in New Smyrna Beach that has consumed about 1,300 acres since Sunday and destroyed three homes.
“We are a tinderbox right now,” Bush said. “We had a little bit of rain but not enough to give people assurances that we are not going to have more fires.”
The governor said many of the fires likely started with either human negligence or malevolence.