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Tuesday, 20 February, 2001, 23:34 GMT
Firefighters battle Florida blaze
Florida wildfire
The fire has been described as intense and erratic
A wildfire burning out of control in central Florida has consumed thousands of acres and forced the evacuation of dozens of homes.

The wind-driven fire in Polk County has also jumped Interstate 4, a heavily travelled route connecting Tampa, Orlando and Daytona Beach.

A 10-mile stretch of the road has now been closed.

A senior firefighter described the fire, which has been burning since the weekend, as intense and erratic.

No injuries have been reported and no houses have been damaged, but about 30 homes were evacuated in a sparsely populated area near Polk City.

Some residents ignored the evacuation orders, choosing to run sprinklers on top of their homes and in their gardens.

'Man-made'

Florida Governor Jeb Bush said: "Because of the swampy area, this fire isn't going to subside for a long while.

"People need to know that most of these fires are man-made, either by arson or human error."

Some 120 prisoners suffering from respiratory problems had to be taken from the Polk County Correctional Institute to neighbouring jails.

Firefighters have managed to contain some of the blaze by digging ditches for a fire line, while helicopters dropped fire-retardant chemicals.

A total of 1,230 fires have scorched more than 83,000 acres from the fire season, which started at the beginning of January.

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See also:

20 Aug 00 | Americas
Wind fans US fires
13 Aug 00 | Americas
Overseas experts boost fire effort
10 Aug 00 | Americas
Uphill task for US fire fighters
08 Aug 00 | Sci/Tech
Flourishing forests need fires
11 Jul 00 | Europe
Fighting forest fires
06 Aug 00 | Americas
Picture gallery: US inferno
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