Large brush fire breaks out in Lakeland, Florida

The wildfire that has burned 5,500 acres and forced thousands to evacuate their homes in eastern Collier County is 50 percent contained, officials said on Sunday. Evacuation orders have been triggered for about 2,000 other residences.

"The drought index is close to 600 and firefighters are fighting twice as many fires this past week than this time previous year", Gill said.

The blaze, which sparked Thursday afternoon, was 10 percent contained as of Saturday morning.

The mandatory evacuation zone includes more than 6,000 structures.

The rain also helped crews battle a fire in Lee County, where a blaze - likely started by a lit cigarette - destroyed four homes and engulfed more than 400 acres.

Students from schools near the fires were moved to different schools for dismissal. Plantation firefighters working as part of Broward County strike team. Fire officials in Polk County have said the wildfire there is suspicious, and it's cause is being investigated.

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The view from SkyFOX showed flames coming dangerously close to several structures, including homes.

Residents were asked to gather at PJ's Restaurant outside of Indian Lakes Estates, according to Polk County Fire Rescue.

Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk said he saw propane tanks exploding and buildings burning where a nursery, chemical warehouse and sod company were affected by the fire.

The fire is just one of many plaguing the state Friday.

Officials said Saturday they had hoped to contain the fire overnight, but to no avail. Florida's Forestry Arson Alert Association is offering up to a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. W., Naples, Florida 34120, with services for the evacuees.

  • Megan Austin