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State of emergency in Florida's wildfires

TITUSVILLE, Fla., March 4 (UPI) -- Florida's Brevard County was under a state of emergency Friday as a voracious wildfire consumed 18,000 acres and firefighters planned back burns to contain it.

The east-central Florida blaze, about 25 miles north of the Kennedy Space Center, could be seen by a NASA satellite that captured images of dense smoke clouds that stretched as far as 70 miles west through Orlando and north toward Daytona Beach.

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Crews from 27 agencies, battling the inferno dubbed the Iron Horse Fire, had the fire 25 percent contained late Thursday, the state Division of Forestry said.

Firefighters said they hoped to reduce the amount of woodland and flammable material by starting small fires along man-made or natural firebreaks such as waterways, roads and bulldozed clearings in front of a main fire front.

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The blaze -- which destroyed a mobile home, three outbuildings and three camp structures but is largely confined to wooded areas -- threatened 140 other unspecified structures, the forestry division said.

There was "significant smoke" in area, the division said, but Interstate 95, a key north-south highway, and U.S. Route 1, paralleling I-95 but farther inland, were now both open to traffic, with reports of smoke on the roads.

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A burn ban went into effect at midnight in Volusia County, just north of Brevard County.

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Investigators were still trying to determine the cause of the fire, which started Monday, but authorities said that was secondary right now.

"Our No. 1 priority is to contain this fire and put it out," state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam told Central Florida News 13, an Orlando, Fla., cable news channel. "The investigation is ongoing now, and it will continue through the period of containment and beyond."

The Iron Horse Fire is one of 65 wildfires blackening more than 26,000 acres in the state, the forestry division said.

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A fire in St. Johns County in the greater Jacksonville area near St. Augustine, was more than 80 percent contained Friday after burning about 1,200 acres, the forestry division said.

A fire at the Ocala National Forest, the oldest national forest east of the Mississippi, was mostly contained after burning some 700 acres, an official told The Gainesville (Fla.) Sun.

Florida is one of the top 10 states for the number of fires and acres burned, said the Institute for Business and Home Safety, a Tampa, Fla., non-profit group. Parts of Florida are facing their driest times in nearly 80 years.

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