The small brush fire had only spread through 10 acres near the border of Chuluota and Oviedo when Robert Yarborough got to the scene. The firefighter called in the blaze around 1:45 p.m. on April 8 and started working with a small crew from the Florida Forest Service and two tractor-plow units to contain it. Quickly, they realized they were outnumbered.
Within two hours, the brush fire had been whipped by the winds into a towering frenzy of flames and smoke that ran through 165 acres. More than a hundred people were evacuated from nearby Girl Scouts Camp Mah-Kah-Wee before it was charred to the ground. A lake slowed the inferno, but the breeze gave it strength to plow through in a scorching path toward homes in the Live Oak Reserve community. Yarborough and his crew had been joined by 150 firefighters, three helicopters, eight bulldozers and six engines to stand between the fire and further destruction.
"It was very extreme," Yarborough says. "Nobody ever got put in any danger fighting it, but it was very nerve-racking. At that point, you just fall back on your training and hope everything works out."
After working into the night, firefighters managed to stop the fire from burning down any houses, though it did get close – the flames licked trees and bushes that were inches from backyards into a blackened crisp.
Last week, Yarborough and a small crew were hosing down the final hot spots that remained behind homes to prevent a second fire. With ashes on his face, he looked up for a second and wondered aloud if the rain would come that day.
State officials have been pondering the same question as Florida's drought conditions continue to worsen, creating the dry ground needed to kindle small blazes into fiery rampages. Several fires have hit Central Florida already, including an aggressive 475-acre brush fire near International Drive and Daryl Carter Parkway that spread smoke along Interstate 4. Last Monday, a fire covering more than 7,000 acres in Naples was just 50 percent contained. In Orange County, less than an inch of rain has fallen in the past month and a half, and its surrounding counties are only slightly better. This has prompted a burn ban for Orange, Seminole, Osceola and 14 other counties.