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Saturday, May 21, 2022

Authorities warn of reduced visibility on all roads, including I-75, due to Columbia County fire

Smoke filled the Gainesville sky Sunday because of a fire about 90 miles north, and authorities are advising drivers on all roadways in Alachua County, including Interstate 75, to be careful during the next several days.

Winds pushed the fumes into Gainesville from an 11,700-acre brush fire in Pinhook Swamp, which is located just south of the Florida-Georgia line in Columbia County. Winds are expected to blow east Monday, making Jacksonville the smoke's main target, said Kurt Wisner, a wildlife mitigation specialist with the Florida Forest Service.

Florida Highway Patrol is advising drivers to turn on their headlights and reduce speed when traveling on I-75, Interstate 10 and U.S. 90. According to a news release, visibility could be reduced during the next several days.

Ludie Bond, also with the Florida Forest Service, said a team from the USDA Forest Service is managing the fire because it happened on federally owned land.

The scope of the fire almost tripled this weekend, growing 3,000 acres on Saturday and another 4,000 on Sunday, Wisner said. Members of the forest service believe the fire started after lightning struck the swamp early last week, and firefighters first responded to the scene Thursday night.

The swamp was particularly susceptible to a brush fire because it is in a dry area that had not burned in a long time, Wisner said.

Pinhook Swamp is an isolated area, located between a national forest and a wildlife refuge. When firefighters arrived, they cut through shrubbery with tractors to make roads to the fire.

Contact Tyler Jett at tjett@alligator.org.

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