1 firefighter injured battling massive Collier fire; smoke advisories issued

Five fires have combined to form a “monster fire” currently burning in the Big Cypress National Preserve in Collier County.

The fire has already scorched 81,458 acres and is only five percent contained as of Sunday afternoon.

Crews from all over the state have been called in to assist with containing the fire, including 339 personnel, eight helicopters, three air tankers, three aircraft and 19 fire engines.

“We’re looking at vegetation types and natural barriers that we can slow fire progress and even suppress it using natural barriers,” said Tim Baron, a Wildland firefighter.

Officials say on Saturday, one firefighter was injured in the leg and airlifted to a hospital. His condition is listed as “good.”

Smoke from the fire impacted roadways in the surrounding area late Saturday night and again on Sunday.

A smoke advisory was issued Saturday night for motorists along Hwy. 41, State Route 29 and I-75 near the Big Cypress National Preserve. Drivers are reminded to remain attentive, especially at night and during the early morning hours. Turn headlights to low beams and slow down when smoke or fog are present.

Officials say the probability for one to two inches of rain in the next 24 hours will slow fire spread and moderate fire behavior. However, it will take extended periods of moisture to recover from the extended drought.

Officials also say that the ash the fire is producing could possibly be good for the environment.

“It promotes regrowth faster and even brings back species that lay dormant due to thick vegetation existing right now,” Baron said.

Retired firefighters like Andy Murrin from Oregon are reporting for duty in hopes that more manpower will put the fire out quickly.

“It’s a jungle down here,” Murrin said. “They can be destructive. There’s houses out here, there’s habitat. It feels good to contribute.”

But even though they are busy fighting the massive blaze, crews took a moment to wish all the mothers out there a very happy Mother’s Day.

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