Everglades Ablaze, Suspected Arsonist Arrested

MIAMI, Florida, May 14, 2008 (ENS) – A 7,000 acres fire, most likely human-caused, in Everglades National Park will be fully suppressed, according to park superintendent Dan Kimball, because it is burning close to two populations of a federally listed endangered species, the Cape Sable seaside sparrow.

“Our highest priority, as always, is firefighter and public safety, but we need to ensure that the habitat of the endangered seaside sparrow is protected,” said Kimball.

Called the Mustang Corner Fire, this blaze was first reported Tuesday morning south of Chekika, a recreation area in the eastern part of the Everglades.

With winds out of the east, the wind-driven fire is burning into the interior of the park and is threatening no structures. The fire is burning in sawgrass, and due to the low fuel moistures, the hardwood hammocks are also burning.

Currently assisting in the suppression efforts are firefighters from the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Florida Division of Forestry; with assistance from one single-engine air tanker; and two helicopters.

On central Florida’s Atlantic coast, where at least 100 homes have gone up in smoke since Mother’s Day, the fires are believed to be deliberately set.

Police have a man in custody who they suspect of starting a small fire near Palm Bay.

Brush fire in Palm Bay, May 11,
2008 (Photo credit unknown)

Police say Brian Crowder, 31, was seen thowing a glass bottle containing a flammable liquid from a car window into the woods. Crowder was arrested today for probation violations, but has not yet been charged in connection with the fires.

About 3,500 acres have been consumed within the Palm Bay City limits, officials said today. Several fires remain active throughout the southwest and southeast portions of the city with only a small portion contained at this time.

Residents on City water north of Malabar Road in Palm Bay are being asked not to use irrigation systems. Code Enforcement Officers are currently out in the area enforcing the temporary ban in order to preserve water resources to fight fires.

Approximately 50 to 75 homes have been reported damaged or destroyed in Palm Bay. Fire inspectors and building inspectors were out today assessing the damage.

Some 5,500 residents are without power and FPL is deploying additional resources to the area. It is not known when power will be restored.

One Palm Bay Firefighter was injured after a live power line fell on him. The firefighter suffered minor shock as a result. He was airlifted to the hospital and is in stable condition.

A $10,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the successful arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for setting the fires. Arson investigators are following any leads that are reported. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Central Florida CRIMELINE at 1-800-423-TIPS.

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