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Two Fla. firefighters killed in wildfire

June 21, 2011 at 8:17 AM   |   Comments

JACKSONVILLE, Fla., June 21 (UPI) -- Two Florida firefighters were killed and two others were injured while fighting the Blue Ribbon fire near the Florida-Georgia border, officials said.

WJXT-TV, Jacksonville, Fla., reported the Division of Forestry firefighters were overrun by flames Monday while driving tractors as they were cutting fire lines to help prevent the fire from spreading.

Division officials said the two injured firefighters sustained smoke- and heat-related injuries, and were treated and released from area hospitals, The (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union reported.

"My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of the two courageous men who sacrificed their lives for the safety of others," Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said in a statement from the Division of Forestry. "We can rebuild the structures and restore the land, but the lives of these two heroes can never be replaced."

The Blue Ribbon fire started June 16 and was previously declared contained, the Times-Union said. However, extremely dry conditions allowed the fire to flare up again Monday.

Since May 1, the Forestry Division has fought more than 1,500 wildfires that have burned more than 200,000 acres, officials said.

As of late Monday, 157 wildfires were burning within a 50-mile radius of Jacksonville, fire officials said.

Windy conditions made smoky conditions north and south of the city likely on Tuesday, the Times-Union reported.

Smoke from the largest blaze, Georgia's 251,570-acre Honey Prairie Complex fire was expected to blow across Nassau County in Florida and Camden and Charlton counties in Georgia, said meteorologist Phil Peterson of the National Weather Service at Jacksonville International Airport. Fires burning in and near the Okefenokee Swamp also could behave badly during the next few days as heat builds and rain doesn't fall, fire officials said

"We've got a lot of fires all around," Peterson said. "It's going to be pretty hard not to have smoke around until we get a weather system in here to clear them out."

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