Persistent wildfires scorch state

Published May 26, 2007

NAPLES - The biggest fires in 26 years in Big Cypress National Preserve have consumed 76 square miles and are still burning three weeks after being started by lightning strikes, officials said.

More than 200 firefighters and personnel from the National Park Service as well as from federal, state, county and tribal land management agencies are fighting two separate blazes in the 1, 125-square-mile preserve east of Naples. Three smaller fires in the preserve have been contained and died down.

One of the remaining fires is burning near homes, but no structures have been damaged.

The fire is expected to help the ecosystem of the preserve. "Most of the fire is just creeping through the understory, and it's going to be very beneficial to that area, " preserve biologist Deborah Jansen said.

Once the fire is out and the thick, ground-hugging brush is gone, deer, turkey and rabbits likely will return to feast on the new vegetation, Jansen said.