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Odessa wild fire mostly contained after battle with fast-growing flames

ODESSA — Firefighters beat down a 40-acre, wind-fueled wildfire Sunday that affected traffic on State Road 54 and forced the closure of Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park.

Authorities said the fire was 90 percent contained Sunday night.

Motorists were warned to use caution this morning on SR 54 because of smoke lingering in the area.

Pasco officials said the park would be open for normal operating hours today.

The blaze started in a pile of mulch that spontaneously combusted in this weekend's record-breaking heat at PAW Materials, a yard waste recycling facility on State Road 54 just east of Gunn Highway.

The fire cut west across a large field into the woods.

Shawn Whited, Pasco County Fire Rescue division chief of training, said the flames moved fast, aided by strong wind.

The blaze, coined the "Gladstone" fire on social media, started just before 10 a.m., said Pasco County spokeswoman Tambrey Laine. Westbound traffic on SR 54 was cut to one lane. Both eastbound lanes stayed open.

No structures were threatened throughout the day, but crews planned to stay through the night to make sure the fire doesn't reach Starkey Ranch, a neighborhood about a mile west of the blaze.

Several agencies responded to help battle the fire, and the National Guard deployed Black Hawk helicopters to drop water on trees where Whited said 100-foot flames licked at high branches at the fire's peak. Crews evacuated and closed the wilderness park.

Temporary flight restrictions were put in place in the area of the fire.

The blaze came during a statewide dry spell that has led to more than 100 active wildfires in Florida and burn bans in several counties, including Pasco, Hernando and Hillsborough.

The flames were fueled by a hot, breezy Sunday, with winds out of the southeast blowing at 15 to 20 mph and gusting to about 30 mph, said Stephen Shiveley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Relief may come in the form of scattered showers, Shiveley said. There was a 40 to 50 percent chance of rain tonight to Tuesday morning, when a weak cold front is expected to move through the area.

But Shiveley emphasized the showers will be spotty at best.

"We need the rain, so rain is good," he said. "But ... they're going to be spotty chances."

Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or kvarn@tampabay.com. Follow @kathrynvarn.

Odessa wild fire mostly contained after battle with fast-growing flames 04/30/17 [Last modified: Sunday, April 30, 2017 10:34pm]
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