NORTH PORT, Fla. (WFLA) — A more than 50-acre brush fire in North Port Friday threatened businesses, schools and neighborhoods as it quickly burnt through forest growth near Price Boulevard and Toledo Blade Boulevard.
Now 100 percent contained, the blaze appeared like it could have been a lot worse if it wasn’t for quick action from North Port Fire Rescue.
“It looked like the apocalypse,” said John Stevenson. “It was bad. It blocked out the sun.”
Stevenson, a North Port resident, saw some smoke and a small fire when he went to the Publix across the street.
“We just thought it was a small fire,” Stevenson recalled. “Went back home. Came back out an hour later to get gas and our bikes and the thing just exploded.”
Sarasota County Schools said it evacuated students and staff members from Imagine Schools North Port. North Port Gymnastics and Building Blox Daycare were also evacuated.
“It was actually a fast-moving fire,” said North Port Fire Rescue District Chief Kyle Dent. “It started out, was only about an acre in size, but due to the heavy winds that we had today and heavy fuel in that direction, it actually spread very quickly.”
Dent said the fire brought out at least six engines, six brush trucks, a few command vehicles and a helicopter dropping water from above.
“We’re going to have a pretty good season this year with brush fires,” Dent said. “With the hurricane that we’ve had. We’ve had a lot of downed trees, a lot of downed snags. That’s just all fuel waiting to go.”
Dent also said one firefighter was hurt while fighting the fire and taken off the line, but has non-life-threatening injuries and will be fine.
He also said the fire moved so quickly his crews couldn’t get ahead of it at first.
“Sometimes, depending on how fast these fires move, you’re trying to anticipate where that next point is going to be,” said Dent. “Sometimes it actually blows past that before those units show up.”
Dent said crews will stay at the site overnight and into Saturday to mop up and spot-check the fire. In the meantime, residents are coming up with their own theories as to how the fire started.
“I figure somebody threw a cigarette butt, more than likely,” said Stevenson. “What else would cause it? We don’t have any lightning.”
Dent said officials are still investigating the cause of the fire, but it does not appear to be intentional.