A brush fire on Card Sound Road in North Key Largo grew from 18 to 60 acres between Monday and Tuesday, prompting periodic closings of both main roads leading into and out of the Florida Keys.
On Tuesday, firefighters with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and the Florida Forest Service were struggling to keep the blaze on the east side of Card Sound Road to prevent it from spreading to the 18-Mile Stretch of U.S. 1, said Scott Peterich of the Forest Service. The two-lane road was closed all morning and officials allowed it to re-open after 1:30 p.m.
“We just have to keep it to the eastern part of Card Sound,” he said. “If it jumps, it will go all the way to U.S. 1.”
Firefighters had it 90 percent contained to less than 20 acres Monday, but in an effort to corral the flames, they “burned out a section to square it off,” Peterich said. Although the tactic will likely help allow the fire to burn itself out, in the short-term, it caused it to get bigger.
“Hopefully, it will stay there and burn itself out,” he said
The floor of the wooded area leading to the fire is extremely wet, which is hampering firefighters’ ability to get personnel, equipment and water close enough to battle the flames.
“Even walking in there, if you crack the crust, you go right down into the mud,” Peterich said.
There’s also no shortage of fuel for the fire.
“There’s so much pine needles on the ground back there,” he said. “The ash layer was 6 inches deep.”
As of 1 p.m. Tuesday, officials closed Card Sound Road to traffic, according to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. This put more vehicles on the 18-Mile Stretch and slowed traffic to a crawl in some areas, especially on the road’s two passing sections, the northern entrance to the highway in Florida City and over the Jewfish Creek Bridge into Key Largo.
Monday night, smoke from the fire billowed out onto the 18-Mile Stretch thick enough for officials to close the highway in both directions for about an hour.
Meanwhile, another — larger — fire continued to burn brush nearby, on the west side of U.S. 1 near the Gateway Estates trailer park, 35250 SW 177 Court in Homestead. That fire was called in around 4 a.m. Sunday morning, Peterich said, and was burning up to 90 acres at its peak.
The flames were “right up against the trailers,” but firefighters were able to contain it before it burned any structures, Peterich said.
As of 1 p.m. Tuesday, the fire was about 85 percent contained, according to the Forest Service, but still covering a 90-acre footprint. Like the Card Sound fire, wet conditions on the ground are making it difficult for firefighters to reach the flames, Peterich said.
Investigators don’t yet know the cause of either fire, but Peterich said it’s unlikely to have started naturally.
“Whether it was a camper or a vagrant, we don’t know,” he said. “But it certainly wasn’t lightning. It was human caused.”
David Goodhue: 305-440-3204