COLLIER COUNTY (CBSMiami) – Smoke from several large fires burning in the Everglades is causing hazy conditions in South Florida.
The fires, located in the Mud Lake Complex of Big Cypress National Preserve near Naples, were caused by lightning strikes.
More than 30,000 acres have burned and the fire is 17% contained by noon Friday, according to the National Park Service.
The fires are more than 60 miles away from the South Florida metro area, but we’re still feeling the effects, mainly in the form of diminished air quality.
Miami-Dade’s Division of Environmental Resources Management, or DERM, tracks air quality daily on its website.
“This index is a forecast. We look at the information from the past 24 hours and the current conditions and we predict a forecast for the coming set of hours,” DERM Spokeswoman Tere Florin told CBS4’s Lauren Pastrana.
On Friday, DERM’s air quality index was at moderate, meaning it’s acceptable, but there may be elevated concern for a small number of vulnerable individuals.
“I know I’m going to be getting phone calls from patients with asthma and COPD and emphysema because the smoke in the environment affects people’s breathing, especially if they have sensitive airways,” said Dr. Jeremy Tabak, a pulmonologist at South Miami Hospital.
“As best as possible avoid being outside. Try to avoid exposure. Being in an air conditioned environment can help get rid of some of that smoke exposure.
Those disturbed by the haze may encounter itchy eyes, runny nose, sinus pain, headaches, shortness of breath or sore throat.
According to the National Park Service, the fires are expected to grow due to higher temperatures and lower relative humidity, combined with westerly winds.
The first fire began May 8th and the others were discovered over the next few days. Our cloudy, hazy skies began Thursday due to a change in wind direction.
Gusty winds and dry conditions have contributed to fire growth. Due to the remote location of the fires, access for ground crews is difficult and firefighters have been primarily fighting the fires by dropping water on them from aircraft.
Fires are an important natural process at Big Cypress Preserve. The fire helps rejuvenate the habitats of the wildlife including endangered species like the Florida panther, but ensuring the safety of firefighters and the public, including motorists on I-75, is the top priority for managing these fires, according to the NPS.
The fires have burned on both sides of I-75 and drivers may encounter smoky conditions between mile markers 59 and 75 over the weekend.
The winds are expected to shift back to the east on Saturday.
Eight agencies — the National Park Service; U.S. Forest Service; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge; Florida Forest Service; Seminole Tribe of Florida; Florida Highway Patrol and Collier County office of emergency management — are among the groups working in the fire zones.