Collier County wildfire scorches 5,500 acres; thousands evacuated

NAPLES, Fla. (WSVN) — Thousands of residents in eastern Collier County evacuated their homes as a 5,500-acre wildfire that sparked on Thursday afternoon continued to rage on this weekend across three counties.

Officials said the blaze has destroyed several buildings and vehicles, and also injured one person. “We lost nine structures, a lot of our parcels, mobile homes, boats, campers, a tremendous amount of damage,” said Greater Naples Fire Rescue Chief Kingman Schuldt. “It sent someone to the hospital with very severe burns.”

Standing near several fire trucks, a local resident told 7News she had to leave her home just after midnight. “It’s kinda scary. We spent the night, last night, at a friend’s house because we evacuated,” said Bonnie. “They came around at 12:30, and they said, ‘You guys need to get out of here.'”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott made several stops in southwest Florida and was briefed by local emergency management and fire officials. “Unfortunately, we’re still battling a 5,500-acre wildfire,” he said during the news conference.

The multi-county effort to battle the flames brought crews from Miami-Dade Fire Rescue to Collier County.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief M. Chavers illustrated the extent of the massive blaze using what appeared to be a satellite image. “The fire goes from [Interstate] 75, all the way up here and all the way out, and there’s two fires east of here as well,” he said.

Several Broward County agencies, including Coral Springs, Davie and Plantation Fire departments, as well as Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue, also traveled to the area on Friday.

“Other units were here, and the fire flared up, and the weather did not cooperate last night,” said Chavers. “It’s all based on the drought.”

As of Friday night, the fire was only 10 percent contained. However, rain came down hard in the area, Saturday afternoon, turning flames into smoke and giving authorities exactly what they’d hoped for.

7News cameras captured charred palm trees surrounded by dense smoke.

“We’re only about 20 percent contained at this time, so we really need to get a bunch of that line in there,” said Florida Forest Service Deputy Chief. “There are still some hot spots out there.”

Cameras showed good Samaritans arriving in Collier County to lend a helping hand to fire and law enforcement crews any way they can.

Jaime Hernandez passed out water bottles. “It’s been really bad, so we’re just trying to help as much as we can. It’s not much, but it’s a little bit, you know?”

Also on hand to supply crews with water bottles was Raul Llorca. “They’re doing such a hard job,” he said.

Officials said the ordeal is not over yet. “It was a fight for life not 24 hours ago,” said Schuldt, “so we are not going to diminish our capabilities right now.”

Crews have sent bulldozers into the wooded areas to prevent the fire from spreading, and officials said they are planning to work through the night.

Mandatory evacuations remain in effect for more than 6,000 structures, and a shelter has opened at North Collier Regional Park.

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