Schools close as smoke billows from Pasco County, FL, fire
Monday, May 8, 2017, 5:41 - Smoke from a wildfire in Pasco County, Florida, shut down three schools on Monday, according to local media reports.
The Anclote Branch Fire has burned 2,275 acres and was 70 percent contained, according to Florida Forest Service.
Florida officials are evacuating a nature reserve and shutting down stretches of highways in the Tampa Bay-area because of wildfires.
A Pasco County Government spokesman said all trails into Starkey Wilderness Park and all its campsites were closed Saturday (May 6) due to a fire within the preserve.
The spokesman said the county also requested voluntary evacuations of subdivisions east of the preserve near Land O' Lakes and Lutz because the blaze was threatening to cross the Suncoast Parkway.
RELATED VIDEO: A wildfire in Georgia's Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge has forced dozens of nearby residents to leave their homes, authorities said on Sunday, adding the blaze might not be fully contained for months. Geocolor imagery from #GOES16 shows extent of the wildfire as it spreads smoke across the Atlantic Ocean below.
Florida Highway Patrol closed northbound Interstate-75 in Hillsborough County on Saturday (May 6) afternoon. Tampa Police and the sheriff's office were using helicopters to drop water on the fires.
Officials near the Starkey Wilderness Park were told they would continue to see and smell smoke until the next rainfall. This video shows the smoke conditions in the park.
This past winter will go down as the second warmest in Florida, and the sixth warmest nationwide. It was also one of the driest, as much of Florida was below average for rainfall in both January and February -- which is allowing wildfires to easily spark and spread. The only exception was the Panhandle, which actually saw a surplus of rainfall, thanks to a line of strong storms that moved through that area the weekend of January 21 – 22.
Below: Active wildfires across Florida as of May 8, 2017.
Below: Burn bans in place