Fueled by dry conditions and a recent lack of rain, three brush fires spread and burned more than 200 acres in Flatwoods Park between Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. and Morris Bridge Rd., creating smoky conditions and temporarily shutting down parts of I-75 over the weekend of May 6-7.
The fires began near Fletcher Ave. and BBD Saturday afternoon, with heavy smoke forcing the closure of I-75 northbound between those two exits as Hillsborough County Fire Rescue (HCFR) fought to contain it.
The fires spread quickly from 20 acres to 200 acres, aided by high winds.
Flatwoods Park was evacuated and closed, although Hillsborough County Fire Rescue said no homes were threatened.
Around 8 p.m., after roughly six hours, Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) State Troopers reopened I-75, although advisories remained in effect for travelers due to the thick smoke from the fire.
In New Tampa, the smell of smoke was strong enough to keep many people indoors for parts of the weekend, while smoke resembling morning fog could still be seen near I-75, as travelers commuted on BBD.
The 5,000-acre Flatwoods Park, a popular local destination for biking and hiking, has ceased burning after HCFR spent hours pouring more than 30,000 gallons of water over the fire, part of a weekend effort that included the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), Tampa Police Department (TPD) and Florida Forestry Service (FFS) firefighters working in unison to slow the spread of the flames and keep the fire from endangering local residents.
Smoky conditions from the fire spread across much of the Tampa Bay area. The Lakeland Ledger reported that the smoky conditions spread to as far away as Lakeland and much of Polk County Saturday afternoon and evening.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
No matter how many firelines are dug, and no matter how much water is dumped over the spate of recent wildfires, the biggest helping hand would be rain. But, ongoing dry conditions and high winds are making things difficult for area firefighters.
New Tampa was fortunate that the Flatwoods Park fire was contained as quickly as it was. In other areas, like nearby Pasco County, a raging 2,200-acre wildfire continues to cause problems at Starkey Wilderness Park (between S.R. 52 and S.R. 54 near New Port Richey) and other smaller fires in the area have forced local schools to be shut down and caused multiple evacuations over the past few weeks.