Interstate reopens as southwest Florida wildfire still burns

NAPLES, Fla. (AP) — A section of Interstate 75 known as Alligator Alley reopened Thursday after four brush fires that eventually merged in southwest Florida had forced it to close a day earlier, authorities said.

The four fires merged and grew into a 8,000-acre (3,240-hectare) fire on Thursday, according to an evening tweet from the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. The blaze was about 10% contained.

The Florida Highway Patrol said on Twitter that troopers had reopened Alligator Alley. The toll road had been closed after smoke caused visibility issues. The agency advised motorists that they should still proceed with caution.

Alligator Alley extends from near Naples on Florida's Gulf Coast to Broward County in South Florida.

By Wednesday night, the four fires had burned a total of about 400 acres (160 hectares), officials said at the time.

One of the fires threatened about 30 homes in the Collier County area of Golden Gate Estates, according to the Florida Forestry Service. Greater Naples Fire Rescue District Chief Kingman Schuldt told the Naples Daily News that the fires have since displaced several residents and damaged or destroyed structures.

The Collier County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were coordinating voluntary evacuations Wednesday night. Officials moved on to mandatory evacuations by Thursday.

The Greater Naples Fire Rescue District led efforts to fight the blazes, while two Lee County strike teams and one Sarasota County team also responded, Schuldt said. Fire crews from Miami-Dade and Broward county were joining the effort Thursday evening, officials said.

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