FELLSMERE, Fla. — A large and fast-growing wildfire fueled by dry, windy conditions in Fellsmere closed part of Interstate 95 near the Indian River-Brevard County line for 10 hours Friday.
Earlier in the day, the fire closed both southbound and northbound lanes of I-95, north of County Road 512 and south of Malabar Road, because of smoke, and a voluntary evacuation order was put in place for the greater Fellsmere area from 97th Street to 109th Street, as well as everything east of Willow Street.
The order was lifted Friday evening and the interstate reopened shortly before 10 p.m.
"We had no idea that they were even talking about voluntary evacuations. This is just the way it is around here," resident Michael Hamons said.
The Florida Forest Service said the Tree Frog Wildfire was about 1,600 acres and was burning in the St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park.
Firefighters said the fire was 40 percent contained by 6:30 p.m.
Fire scene: Power lines between 107th Street and 109th Street. pic.twitter.com/0maicaSXaK— Fellsmere Police (@FellsmerePD) May 21, 2021
Southbound lanes have reopened at this time. https://t.co/5DgR3CyYGH— FHP West Palm Beach (@FHPPalmBeach) May 21, 2021
Police said firefighters were still putting out hot spots, and there were small pockets of fire burning east of I-95 near mile marker 157.
"Because of the very little rain that we've been having over these past few weeks and because of the increased temperature, and now with the increased winds that we're having today, it's making this fire very hard to contain," Miguel Nevarez, with the Florida Forest Service, said.
Nevarez said the strong winds are picking up embers from the fire, blowing them around, and causing them to spark new fires elsewhere.
"We are worried that it's going to continue to spread if these winds do not die down," Nevarez said.
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Crews from the Florida Forest Service and Indian River County Fire Rescue battled the flames using brush trucks, dozers and helicopters making water bucket drops.
There were no reports of any damage to buildings or other structures, and no one was hurt.
Nevarez said there were no homes or communities nearby.
"This is going to be a project," Nevarez said. "This is going to be working throughout the day. Hopefully, we can get some sort of containment by the end of the night. But, yeah, this is going to be a while."
Voluntary evacuation notice:— Fellsmere Police (@FellsmerePD) May 21, 2021
A voluntary evacuation notice is issued for the the following area:
East of Willow (130th Avenue) between 97th street and 109th Street.
VOLUNTARY ONLY AT THIS TIME pic.twitter.com/sjWclu82Qo
WPTV First Alert Meteorologist James Wieland expected the fire to grow rapidly Friday because of the dry and windy conditions.
"This can really get out of hand very, very quickly with the amount of wind and dryness out there," Wieland said. "Our humidity is really low. The wind is sky high, and that means that fire is gonna grow quickly."
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Because of the I-95 closure, northbound traffic was diverted off the 156-mile marker exit at County Road 512, and southbound traffic was diverted off the 166-mile marker exit at St. John's Heritage Parkway.
"It’s been crazy. We're just trying to go to Orlando," Jupiter resident Christen Scott, who was caught in the traffic mess, said. "It's just been kind of crazy. We just keep getting rerouted. So, hopefully, we'll get there."
As of 10 p.m., there were still signs of fire along the interstate and one on the two southern quadrants on the St. Sebastian Buffer Preserve.
Indian River County Fire Rescue was expected to monitor the fire throughout the night to put out hot spots and prevent further spreading.
The cause of the fire is unknown and under investigation.