(NEW YORK) — Three separate wildfires raged across parts of Florida on Saturday, burning up homes and forcing the evacuation of thousands of residents.
One blaze has burned 5,500 acres and destroyed nine homes in Collier County near Naples as of Saturday morning. Approximately 7,000 homes have been evacuated since Friday night, according to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.
More than 500 public safety professionals are working to contain the fire, assist with evacuations and manage traffic in the area. Just 10 percent of the fire was contained as of 9 a.m. ET Saturday, the sheriff’s office said.
Authorities are strongly urging those in the mandatory evacuation zone to leave as soon as possible. As many as 10 aircraft will fly over the blaze Saturday attempting to drop water on the flames, according to the sheriff’s office.
The Caloosahatchee Forestry Center said Saturday there is a 5-mile temporary flight restriction in place around the fire in Collier County.
Intense pictures from Collier County brush fires. Plantation firefighters working as part of Broward County strike team. pic.twitter.com/alrvwH1ezF
— Plantation Fire (@PlantationFire) April 22, 2017
In central Florida’s Polk County, the entire Indian Lake Estates subdivision, which encompasses some 800 homes and 8,000 lots, is under a mandatory evacuation due to a large wildfire that authorities suspect may be man-made.
“Several structures are on fire. Fire crews need residents to leave the area so firefighters can protect structures,” the Polk County Fire Rescue said in a statement on its Facebook page Friday.
The American Red Cross opened a shelter Friday night at the First Presbyterian Church of Lake Wales for those displaced by the fires in the Indian Lake Estates.
Authorities believe the initial blaze started late afternoon on Friday and has since spread to multiple fires that are burning in the area of Ponce de Leon Road, Magnolia Drive, Red Range Road and Winter Haven Road. Fire officials said several structures have been destroyed but did not specify an exact number.
It’s unknown how many acres are currently on fire.
The cause of the wildfire remains under investigation, but authorities suspect it could be arson. The Florida Forestry Arson Alert Association is offering up to a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
Just last week, firefighters were deployed to the Indian Lake Estates area to extinguish several fires that came dangerously close to nearby homes. Those blazes were deemed “suspicious” by the Florida Forest Service.
“There’s no evidence the fires are occurring naturally,” Ricky Britt of forest service, said in an April 12 statement. “The cause of the fires needs to be investigated, so investigators will be looking into it.”
Meanwhile, a 400-acre brush fire in Lee County has destroyed at least 13 structures in Lehigh Acres near Fort Myers. The fire was 95 percent contained as of 8 a.m. ET Saturday, according to the Caloosahatchee Forestry Center.
Investigators are still working to determine the cause of this fire.
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