Book burning starts Florida wildfire, 10 homes destroyed

A man burning paper outdoors on a windy day prompted the fire, and the evacuation of about 150 people near Bryceville, Fla.
By Ed Adamczyk Contact the Author   |  March 23, 2017 at 11:42 AM
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March 23 (UPI) -- A Nassau County, Fla., fire, begun by a man burning paperback books, destroyed at least 10 homes, a Florida Forest Service spokeswoman said.

Aided by strong winds and dry conditions, the backyard fire escalated Wednesday afternoon into a 400-acre wildfire near Bryceville, 20 miles west of Jacksonville. A mandatory evacuation of about 150 nearby residents was ordered. Officials said Thursday morning that the fire was 65 percent contained and no longer spreading, but full containment of the fire was not expected by the end of the day.

The fire was started by an unidentified man who was burning paperback books outdoors on his property.

"It was an illegal burn. It was paper. It got away from him," said Annaleasa Winter of the Florida Fire Service on Wednesday. "The fire was originally contained to around five acres. We did have [excavation] lines around it, but the wind picked up. It was very gusty this afternoon [and] blew fire brands outside the fire lines."

She added that the man was issued a notice of violation and will be billed for fire personnel and equipment involved in fighting the fire. He could also be held civilly liable for damage to neighbors' property.

Nassau County Emergency Management Director Billy Estep said the fire spread to an area about one-half mile wide and 2 miles long. He referred to the start of the fire as "purely an accident."

More than 200 personnel from five local agencies fought the fire as 17 bulldozers excavated protective fire lines. Nassau County Fire Battalion Chief Mike Eddins said minor injuries were reported by firefighters. He added that some power lines were destroyed in the fire, and no timetable for the return of evacuees has been established.

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