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Tricky brush fire menaces mobile home community

Firefighters set a backfire to protect the Pineland Park neighborhood, but the winds and dryness still are considered threats.

[Times photo: Brendan Fitterer]
Division of Forestry firefighters monitor a backfire set Wednesday to keep a wildfire away from homes at the end of Eleanor Drive in Port Richey. The wildfire was started by lightning, officials said. Late Wednesday, no residents of the nearby Pineland Park or RV parks had been evacuated.

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 21, 2001

PORT RICHEY -- When Daniel Wright bought his mobile home in the Pineland Park neighborhood a month and a half ago, he thought about the potential for natural disasters.

"I was worried about floods because it's west of U.S. 19," said Wright, who lives on Cathy Drive.

Turns out, he should have been more worried about fires.

Lightning strikes on Tuesday night sparked a brush fire in a marsh west of U.S. 19; on Wednesday, state forestry authorities back-burned woods just feet from Wright's mobile home subdivision in hopes of keeping the wildfire away from the homes.

As of 8 p.m. Wednesday, none of the residents of Pineland Park or two nearby RV parks were evacuated. They did cluster in driveways and on the neighborhood's narrow streets to watch the flames leap above the trees.

Clouds of thick brown smoke could be seen from U.S. 19, west of the Social Security Administration and Dunkin' Donuts.

The fire scorched about 200 acres by Wednesday night and had the potential to burn more than 3,500 acres, said Anthony Petellat, a spokesman for the state Division of Forestry. Fighting the brush fire is difficult because of its remote location -- there are no roads into the marsh -- and the weather.

"It's tricky because of the wind conditions and how dry it still is," Petellat said. "Rain would help tremendously."

Carrie Kitchen, who lives on Cathy Drive with her 7-month old son, Jacob, was angry that forestry officials didn't warn residents about Wednesday's back burn. She was also worried that the smoke could get inside her mobile home and harm the baby and her two birds.

"You never know, the wind could shift," Kitchen said. "You don't risk a baby's life."

- Tamara Lush is the police reporter in Pasco County. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6245 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6245.

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