Wildfire scorches through preserve

Firefighters battled to keep the blaze from jumping a main street in Hernando Beach.

Published May 20, 2007

WEEKI WACHEE - A fast-moving wildfire scorched 145 acres of forest near Hernando Beach late Friday and early Saturday.

At least 60 firefighters and volunteers worked through the night Friday to keep the 70-foot flames from jumping Shoal Line Boulevard, the busy main drag that runs through Hernando Beach.

No one was injured and no buildings were burned.

By late Saturday morning, the underbrush smoldered around Hernando Beach First Baptist Church, but the white-steepled building escaped unharmed.

It was unclear what started the fire in Weeki Wachee Preserve on Friday evening, said Division of Forestry spokesman Don Ruths.

On Saturday, firefighters from Hernando County Fire Rescue, the Hernando Beach Volunteer Fire Department and the Division of Forestry doused the boundaries of the blaze to keep dangerous embers from igniting another fire. Everything inside the charred boundary will be allowed to burn.

Ruths said there were 21 other wildfires burning in the five-county area of Hernando, Citrus, Lake, Pasco, and Sumter counties.

On Saturday, there were still 174 active fires across the state burning more than 190,000 acres, according to the state Division of Forestry.

The weather promised to remain sunny and dry, with northeasterly winds at 15 to 20 miles per hour with 25 mph gusts, said forecaster Tom Dougherty with the National Weather Service in Ruskin. No rain is expected today.

For now, officials said they do not expect smoke from the Florida fires to return to the Tampa Bay area.

Asjylyn Loder can be reached at aloder@sptimes.com or 352 754-6127.