COLLIER COUNTY, Fla. - Monument Park, usually a campground, is right now being used as a command center for crews still trying to battle a wildfire in the Big Cypress National Preserve. The fire has grown over 25,000 acres; but bad weather has kept planes from surveying the exact size. WINK News went inside the fire and learned weather also dictates how crews fight the blaze.
"It is just a labor intense operation," Tony Sciacca with the Incident Management Team tells us of operations inside the burn zone.
Dozens of firefighters line the trail watching the fire line, making sure winds don't cause any embers to jump. Most armed with tools to cut down brush, or drip torches to help burn a fire line.
Everything crews do to fight the fire is systematic. They purposely set a fire in the burn zone so if the wind direction changes, or the fire itself changes direction it won't have any fuel to spread any further.
"We're kind of taking advantage of the road system, burning off the fuels ahead of the fires," division supervisor Larry Bear explains.
The biggest issue right now, these crews are at the mercy of the weather. Thunderstorms may provide helpful downpours, but they all supply erratic winds.
We experienced the danger of these winds first-hand when a storm forced us to move out of the area we were in.
After the quick move Sciacca explains, "They were applying some fire, we had a wind shift, there was some fire that was possibly going to get behind us. It didn't so we had to get up get out out the way to make sure we weren't in harms way."
The weather could also affect travel plans this weekend. With the fire expected to burn up to a mile from U.S. 41, if winds carry smoke across the road there could be lane closures. Those traveling to the other coast may be better off taking Alligator Alley.
As of Friday evening, the wildfire is 20 percent contained. It's expected to reach 100 percent containment by May 18th.