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Sawgrass Fire scorches 42,000 acres in Florida Everglades, continues to grow

By Amanda Schmidt, AccuWeather staff writer
June 27, 2019, 10:12:56 AM EDT

A brush fire burning in the Florida Everglades exploded in size as it burned for the second day straight south of I-75 on Tuesday. Smoke drifting from the fire continues to spread across southern Florida and will bring hazy conditions which will threaten to bring poor air quality and low visibility for motorists at times again on Wednesday.

The Sawgrass Fire grew from 18,500 acres to 32,000 acres Monday night amid hot and dry conditions. As of Wednesday night, the fire was 42,000 acres and 75% contained.

The past week has been unusually warm in South Florida, and it has been mainly rain-free across the region, according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Paul Walker. The conditions likely aided in the rapid spread of the fire, he added.

For some Florida cities, the heat is going down in the record books for the month as well. This has been the third-hottest June on record for Miami, according to the Southeast Regional Climate Center. Temperatures in the city have soared above normal 21 days so far this month. An all-time June high temperature of 98 F was recorded on Monday.

The fire ignited around 6:30 p.m. EDT Sunday night, and by Monday morning, the fire had grown to 10,000 acres. The fire was likely caused by a lightning strike, according to a statement from the Florida Forest Service.

At least three other fires were started by lightning across Florida on Sunday, according to the Florida Forest Service.

According to Walker, lightning is a common spark for wildfires in the United States.

“The energy from the lightning evaporates the moisture heating the object up, and this can lead to combustion of the object of the strike. Lightning strikes can be five times hotter than the sun,” Walker said.

Sawgrass Fire Florida 6-24-2019

The Florida Forest Service captured the Sawgrass Fire on Monday, June 24. (Twitter / @FFS_Everglades)

On Monday, northeasterly winds pushed ash and smoke into southwestern Broward County. Fire officials said, “Residents with breathing complications should take appropriate measures.

The wildfire smoke was likely visible across Broward and Palm Beach counties on Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Miami. Weather officials urge residents to practice wildfire smoke safety tips like keeping doors and windows closed.

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Visibility will be restricted in some areas at times as a result of the inferno. This would be most likely on the Alligator Alley portion of I-75, according to Walker.

As of Tuesday night, officials had only closed a portion of I-75 for about 10 minutes on Tuesday afternoon before reopening it. Officials urge motorists to use caution when driving through smoky conditions, especially when driving in Broward, Palm Beach and Collier counties. Florida emergency officials will provide updates of road closures on their website.

On Tuesday afternoon and evening, thunderstorms were present around the fire, especially south of the fire location. The storms packed strong winds and rain, impacting firefighting efforts. While the rain helped aid in firefighting efforts, the winds pushed the smoke and the flames closer to I-75, fire officials told CBS Miami.

Sawgrass Fire 6-25-2019

Smoke from the Sawgrass Fire lingers over the highway on Tuesday, June 25. (Twitter / @FFS_Everglades)

Hazy conditions are possible around the Miami area at times, where presidential candidates, spectators and the press will be converging for the Democratic Presidential Debates through Thursday.

Just north of the fire in Belle Glade, Florida, located in Palm Beach County, the air quality was reportedly unhealthy for sensitive groups on Tuesday.

On top of the smoke, a heat advisory was issued for portions of southern Florida on Tuesday, including Collier, Mainland Monroe and Palm Beach counties.

A thunderstorm may pop-up across the area on Thursday.

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