Broward firefighters assist in battling Collier County wildfires

WEST BROWARD, FLA. (WSVN) - About 25 Broward County firefighters headed to Florida’s Gulf Coast to help battle two massive wildfires that sparked in Collier County on Thursday.

7News cameras captured crews at a fire station in West Broward shortly after they were scheduled to drive to Naples, Friday afternoon. “They’ve given a deployment assignment, and the crews are preparing to head over to the West Coast,” said Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Jason Smith.

The firefighters are from Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue, as well as the Coral Springs, Davie and Plantation Fire departments.

Officials said the wildfires sparked in Eastern Collier County, Thursday afternoon. As of Friday afternoon, the flames have scorched nearly 5,000 acres. As of 6:30 p.m., it was only 10 percent contained.

Authorities issued an evacuation order for several neighborhoods in the area. About 7,000 homes have been evacuated.

“We were told there was a voluntary evacuation,” said homeowner Jack Bernsen. “We started preparing, and it came out of nowhere. It hit us hard.”

As of Friday night, six homes had been destroyed. “It’s unreal. It’s tragic,” said one resident.

Flames began to surround Grant Gelinas’ home in the Golden Gate Estates neighborhood, located east of Naples, Friday evening. 7News cameras captured firefighters attempting to ensure the fire did not reach the residence.

Gelinas said the fire has already scorched dozens of acres around his home. “Crazy. Everything just lit up in flames,” he said.

Before dark, the Gelinas family made sure that the area immediately surrounding their house was cleared. They also tried to make plans for their animals.

“Everything is out of the house,” said Gelinas. “Whatever goes up, goes up.”

Some residents in the evacuation zone who were unable to take their animals got so desperate that they let them go so they would be able to run from the fire. 7News cameras captured a horse with her hind area spray-painted red so her owner could later identify her.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has deployed resources from the Florida National Guard to assist crews. “We’re providing all the resources we can. We are coordinating activities to make sure that everything you see in Collier County, we’re going to fight these fires,” he said. “We’re going to make sure they’re here. We’re going to get them here as quickly as we can.”

“Our thoughts are with all the folks that are in the area. We’re going to do everything we can to protect your homes,” said Greater Naples Fire Rescue Chief Kingman Schuldt.

The governor also expressed his gratitude to the state’s firefighters. “The most important thing is, we are very thankful that we have the firefighters we do at the state, local and federal level that are willing to put their lives at risk to keep us all safe,” he said.

Officials with Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue said they are still unsure about what their job will be once they arrive in Collier County. “There may be houses over there that they want us to go ahead and watch for boundary cooling,” said Smith. “We weren’t given an assignment so we really don’t know how [the Division of] Forestry is going to utilize our group at this time.”

The Broward crew joined a contingent from Miami-Dade County that was already in Collier County. Officials said the Broward firefighters will be driving back to South Florida early Saturday. The Miami-Dade crews will remain behind to assist on Saturday.

Officials said one person has been injured.

Authorities advised drivers heading to the Naples area to check for road closures.

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