‘Cowbell’ latest in series of brush fires in dry SWFL

IMMOKALEE, Fla. Firefighters continue to battle a brush fire inside Big Cypress National Preserve, also known as the ‘Cowbell Fire,’ as Southwest Florida remains under a severe drought.

The blaze has scorched approximately 16,958 acres and is 47 percent contained, federal fire officials said. The brush fire expanded by nearly 50 percent earlier this week, fire officials said.

Smoke in the area can cause limited visibility for motorists driving to and from the east coast on Interstate 75, said the Florida Highway Patrol, adding that motorists are advised to stay vigilant while their traveling this holiday weekend.

“We’re continually monitoring the conditions to make sure that it’s safe for vehicles to travel,” FHP Lt. Gregory Bueno said. “Because we want motorists to be able to see street signs, roadway markings obviously other cars.”

The following preserve closures remained in place on Friday:

  • Pink Jeep, Bear Island and Gator Head Campgrounds.
  • The road leading into the Sanctuary, except residents.
  • All trails between State Road 29, L-28 Canal and north of Interstate 75.
  • All public lands west of the L-28 Canal, north of Alligator Alley and east of state road 29.

The Cowbell fire is the latest in a series of brush fires in Southwest Florida. Approximately 7,230 acres were charred in the Picayune Strand Forest in March. The fire, which lasted nearly a month, was 100 percent contained on April 2, the FHP said.

The Picayune Strand brush fire forced mandatory evacuations and shut down multiple roads, including Interstate 75 along Alligator Alley. Although nearly 1,000 homes were saved from the blaze, which the cause remains unclear, at least four homes were destroyed.

Smaller brush fires have broken out in Lee and Charlotte counties during the dry season.

A water warning for Southwest Florida was issued on Thursday, which the warning could become mandatory if water use isn’t reduced, The South Florida Water Management District said.

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