'Aggressive' 475-acre brush fire burning near I-Drive

Brush fires also burning in Osceola, Pinellas counties

ORLANDO, Fla. – An aggressive, wind-driven 475-acre brush fire is burning Friday afternoon near International Drive in Orlando, according to the Florida Forest Service.

Officials received a call about the fire at 11:15 a.m. in the area of Daryl Carter Parkway near I-Drive.

The fire was first reported as 20 acres at 12:25 p.m. By 2:30 p.m., it was 300 acres and 10 percent contained. It was 475 acres and 55 percent contained at 4:30 p.m. It was 75 percent contained by 8 p.m.

The fire was still 475 acres and 75 percent contained by 8:40 a.m. Saturday, fire officials said. 

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

[PICTURES: Brush fire burns near I-Drive]

Florida Forest Service District Manager Sean Gallagher said wind and dry conditions were a big factor in the aggressive spread of the flames.

"Any time you have those conditions, the fire is going to be very hard to catch," Gallagher said.

Gallagher said the fire is wind-driven, so first responders are basing their actions on that. It has burned into Shingle Creek swamp, which officials hope will help keep the flames from spreading.

Orange County Fire Department Division Chief Mike Wajda said evacuations were ordered earlier in the afternoon.

"That's our primary concern – to control injuries and then protect property, and we are very happy that we were able to do that," Wajda said.

Between 30 and 40 rooms were evacuated at the Sheraton Vistana Villages Resort Villas on International Drive, according to Orange County Fire Rescue. About 150 people were evacuated from a nearby condo, as well.

Those evacuations have since been lifted. No people were injured and no structures were damaged, officials said.

Orange County Sheriff's Office Sector V Capt. Sandy Carpenter said officials will continue to monitor the fire Friday night through Saturday morning.

"We don't know which direction it's gonna end up blowing tonight so we will be monitoring it, working with the fire department to make sure everyone is covered," Carpenter said.

He added that officials will make sure the fire doesn't move too quickly toward Williamsburg, where many of the residents are elderly and may need help evacuating.

There are no road closures, but the public is advised to use caution and avoid the area. No structures are threatened.

A separate brush fire was reported in Osceola County around 2 p.m. in the Holopaw Groves Road area in St. Cloud.

Osceola County Fire Rescue crews told News 6 quickly grew from 35 acres to 150 acres before it was contained.

Sky 6 video of that scene showed several charred structures.

Campers were evacuated from a campsite in the area for several hours. They were allowed back in at 7:30 p.m.

"Around my place, it's just burned plum to the ground," said Greg Marlow, who was trying to get home from work when the fire broke out.

He said his girlfriend spent the afternoon at home on the other side of a police blockade, which kept a long line of campers and residents away from harm.

"She had a hose, she had a shovel. She was trying to throw dirt on the fire, trying to get it put down," he said. "The wind -- it just overcome her. She had to get out of there."

No homes were burned, although flames were dangerously close to some of them.

In Pinellas County, a brush fire sparked at 3:40 p.m. on the west side of Interstate 275. The heavy winds have caused smoke to blow across the interstate and the Gandy Boulevard, prompting officials to close I-275 in both directions.


About the Authors:

Erik Sandoval joined the News 6 team as a reporter in May 2013. He is one of the station’s lead reporters. During his time at News 6, Erik has covered several major stories, including the 2016 Presidential campaign. He was also one of the first reporters live on the air at the Pulse Nightclub shooting.