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Everglades Fire Ignites As Drought Deepens

National Park Service
A fire that started just outside Everglades National Park on Sunday has spread across 1,300 acres.

A 1,300-acre Everglades fire that ignited Sunday continued to burn Wednesday across dried out marshes, threatening to spark a more dangerous peat fire.

The fire started just east of Everglades National Park, near Southwest 112th Street and the L-31 canal, and spread north into the park, said park spokeswoman Allyson Gantt. While slower winds helped firefighters keep the fire from spreading, only 35 percent had been contained by Wednesday afternoon, she said.

To help prevent peat from igniting, the South Florida Water Management District began pumping water out of the canal into adjacent marshes Wednesday. The district also closed a gate along the canal to raise groundwater levels, Gantt said in a statement.

Credit Florida Division of Forestry
Dought conditions have spread across South Florida following a record-dry March.

Following a record-dry March, water managers worried that falling groundwater levels would expose peat. The slow-forming soil - just three inches can take 100 years to make - forms the foundation for the vast marshes and has subsided dramatically with the draining of the Everglades.

Once the peat vanishes, open water areas can form and deepen. The water is too deep for sawgrass and, scientists fear, too deep for mangroves that could help stabilize the land as seas rise.

Everglades restoration is supposed to undo the damage from flood control by returning freshwater to the marshes. Two central projects that lay the groundwork for the plan are nearing an end. But the recent drought has dried up the flow.

Aerial and ground crews with the National Park Service were fighting the west and east sides of the fire while the state Division of Forestry patrolled the southern edge with two bombadiers, Gantt said.

The park is warning residents with respiratory problems to stay inside as smoke drifts over neighborhoods. The cause of the fire remains under investigation, Gantt said.