COLLIER COUNTY, Fla.- Alligator Alley is back open after smoke from the massive Huckabee wildfire in the Big Cypress Preserve forced roads to close. Though visibility has improved, officials warn drivers that could change over the coming hours and days.
Authorities say conditions can change with the direction of the wind and other factors like fog.
Monday morning, dense fog and smoke from a nearby brush fire blocked off 80 miles of Alligator Alley, and 30 miles of State Road 29. Troopers say, at its worst, visibility was a few dozen feet.
"It is a headache because it drains us of our manpower, and (closing the interstate) is something that we normally don't do, but in the event that visibility is poor, it's something we want to prioritize," said Lt. Greg Bueno of the Florida Highway Patrol.
Firefighters from around Collier County, the state, and country have been called in to battle the 20,000-acre blaze at Big Cypress Preserve and have been working for nearly three days.
Crews say conditions are naturally driest this time of year, but this fire has suspicious beginnings.
"Given the fact that there were no controlled burn operations in that area at the time, nor any weather conditions that would indicate a naturally-caused fire, that's what labels it as a suspicious event," said Ryan Stubblebine, a park ranger with the Big Cypress National Preserve.
FHP will be driving the Alley, looking for visibility troubles through tonight.
Officers advise drivers of the following in poor visibility:
-DRIVE WITH LIGHTS on low beam. High beams will only be reflected back off the fog and actually impair visibility more. Your lights help other drivers see your vehicle, so be sure they all work. Keep your windshield and headlights clean, to reduce the glare and increase visibility.
-SLOW DOWN - and watch your speedometer - before you enter a patch of fog. Be sure that you can stop within the distance that you can see. Fog creates a visual illusion of slow motion when you may actually be speeding. Speed is a major factor in fog related crashes.
-WATCH OUT for slow-moving and parked vehicles. Open you window a little and listen for traffic you cannot see.
-REDUCE THE DISTRACTIONS in your vehicle. Turn off the radio and cell phone. Your full attention is required.
-USE WIPERS AND DEFROSTERS liberally for maximum visibility. Sometimes it is difficult to determine if poor visibility is due to fog or moisture on the windshield.
-USE THE RIGHT EDGE of the road or painted road markings as a guide.
-BE PATIENT. Avoid passing and/or changing lanes.
-SIGNAL TURNS well in advance and brake early as you approach a stop.
-DO NOT STOP on a freeway or heavily traveled road. You could become the first link in a chain-reaction collision. If you must pull off the road, signal (people tend to follow tail lights when driving in fog), then carefully pull off as far as possible. After pulling off the road, turn on your hazard flashers (hazard lights should only be used when you pull over to show that you are parked on the side of the road). Move away from the vehicle.