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Saturday, July 4, 1998 Published at 20:34 GMT 21:34 UK


World: Americas

Florida fires force thousands to flee

Firefighters are running out of equipment

More than 120,000 people in the southern United States have fled their homes to escape the forest fires sweeping across Florida.


[ image: Evacuees from Flagler County head south]
Evacuees from Flagler County head south
Virtually an entire county has been abandoned. Officials said 95% of Flagler's 45,000 residents had obeyed an order to evacuate, most heading into neighbouring counties.

Residents of Volusia and Brevard counties have also left their homes. More than 500 square miles (800 km sq) are affected by the blazes, which are being fanned by winds.

The fires have forced the closure of a 200km section of the main east-coast highway, Interstate 95. They are threatening the cities of Daytona Beach and nearby Ormond Beach.

Firefighters, reinforced by help from at least seven other states, are trying to stop brush fires merging into a single inferno. Crews in some areas are running out of equipment. The US Government has pledged some $60m in aid to help combat the fires.


The BBC's Damian Grammaticas: 'Some fire-fighters are even being scalded by the sweat inside their fire suits'
So far there have not been any deaths, but 100 people have been injured, including dozens of firefighters have been injured. Some are being scalded by their own sweat as temperatures inside their protective suits soar to nearly boiling point.

Despite the danger some residents have been reluctant to leave their homes. The fear is people who stay behind may be trapped with nowhere to run.

$275m damage

The fires, many of which are believed to have been started deliberately, have caused damage valued at $275m with the firefighting operation costing another $100m.

Fire crews say they are concentrating on saving lives not property.

The state governor, Lawton Chiles, said the fires were the worst ever faced by Florida and summed up the despair when he said: "Everyone should pray for rain."


[ image:  ]
The situation has ruined the July 4 Independence Day celebrations for many people. With fire crews at full stretch, the Florida authorities have banned the sale of fireworks in case more fires are started.

One of America's most famous car races which was due to have taken place on Saturday at the Daytona International Speedway has been cancelled.

Smoke is also affecting Florida's main holiday destination, Disneyworld, and the smoke haze has reached Miami, 400km south of the firestorm.

Temperature rising

The hundreds of fires raging across parts of Florida in recent weeks have been fuelled by the hottest May and June on record. Large tracts of land have been scorched.

Gusts of wind over 30km-an-hour have helped the fire to spread, jumping firebreaks set up by local fire-fighters.

Forecasters predict rising temperatures of over 35C, spreading across from an already dry Mid-west. There is no indication of any rain to aid the fire-fighters operations.



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Internet Links

Florida State: Division of Emergency Management's Wildfires page

US National Interagency Fire Center


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