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    Rains help squelch Florida's wildfires

    ©Associated Press

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 11, 2001

    The onset of Florida's summer rains is bringing relief from weeks of wildfires all over the state.

    By Sunday, almost all the wildfires across Florida were either extinguished, getting mopped up or contained.

    "We're doing really well," said Paul Palmiotto, assistant chief of Florida's Division of Forestry. "It's the rain we're getting."

    Earlier this month, with Florida still in its worst drought on record, firefighters were dealing with dozens of fires some days. Since Jan. 1, about 3,400 wildfires have burned about 357,000 acres in Florida.

    But the rains have helped put out several major fires, including the 4-week-old, 57,200-acre Mallory Swamp fire straddling north central Florida's Lafayette and Dixie counties.

    "Hopefully we'll be out of there by Thursday," Palmiotto said. "It's considered 100 percent contained."

    The Koon Pond fire just to the south, which has burned 1,153 acres, was 90 percent contained, he said.

    Farther south, little or nothing was left of the fire that singed 14,700 acres in the Everglades in western Miami-Dade County the past several days.

    "That's out," said Suzanne Ethridge, duty officer for the forestry division's southeast region.

    A smaller blaze farther south in Everglades National Park, but still outside South Florida's urban swath along the coast, was still burning, she said. It had blackened about 200 acres.

    While the rains bring welcome relief, they also bring danger.

    On Friday, 12 of the 13 new wildfires were caused by lightning, Palmiotto said.

    "We're looking for the rain to continue, and hopefully we'll have enough rain with the lighting so . . . the rains will put out the lightning fires," he said.

    National Weather Service meteorologist Roberto Garcia in Miami expressed the same hopes and concerns.

    "It's true the rain has helped a lot to put out the fires," Garcia said. "The only problem that could happen is the lightning starting more fires."

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