Sawgrass fire in Everglades causes road closures, health warnings

CLEWISTON — A persistent sawgrass fire started by lightning in the central Everglades west of Fort Lauderdale on Sunday, June 23, led to a short closure of Alligator Alley early last week before nearly doubling in size Tuesday. Then, an afternoon storm almost put it out, but it continued to burn.

It was around 70 percent contained by Thursday morning, June 27, according to the Florida Forest Service (FFS).

However, in the meantime its thick smoke and haze blanketed parts of Palm Beach County’s Glades areas as the fire continued to advance, raising health warnings in Broward, mainland Monroe and Palm Beach counties. Diminished air quality in the Belle Glade area prompted local advisories.

At 3:30 that afternoon, the FFS declared the fire 100% contained.

The wildfire began about 8 miles west of Weston, north of Alligator Alley, and led the Florida Highway Patrol to close a 57-mile stretch of the road from Collier County into Broward because of reduced visibility. It was reopened not long afterward, but the fire kept spreading northwest.

After about 18,500 acres already had burned in the Everglades sawgrass swamps, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service website reported Tuesday, June 26, that the burned area had increased to about 32,000 acres, a 70% jump from the day before.

Late-day storms in Broward extinguished some of it, but as of Thursday morning, FFS estimated a total of 41,500 acres of Everglades sawgrass had been scorched. The final number of acres burned was put at 42,000 by an FFS spokesman Thursday.

Motorists in the area were advised to use caution, and health advisories were raised for local residents with breathing complications.

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