7 Homes, 23 Other Structures Destroyed by Florida Wildfire

NAPLES, Fla. (AP) -- At least seven homes and 23 other structures have been destroyed by a massive wildfire that continues to burn in southwest Florida, officials said.

Greater Naples Fire Rescue District Chief Kingman Schuldt said during a news conference Friday that workers were surveying the area east of Naples. Their damage assessment was about 50% complete by Friday evening, Schuldt said.

Florida Forest Service incident commander John Kern said the 8,663-acre (3,506-hectare) wildfire was about 40% contained. Firefighters were able to make good use of overnight rain, as a fleet a 16 medium-size bulldozers and two heavy bulldozers carved fire lines around the burning trees, Kern said. Kern said the rain wasn't enough to soak the heavier fuel, and dry weather was expected to return in the coming days.

Several wildfires had been reported Wednesday afternoon in Collier County near the western end of a toll section of Interstate 75 called Alligator Alley, but they later combined into one big fire. Officials said they're still trying to determine the cause.

More than 100 firefighters from Collier County and its municipalities having been battling the blaze nonstop since it started, Schuldt said. About 150 additional firefighters have responded from other parts of the state.

Shortly after the fires were reported Wednesday, Florida Highway Patrol shut down a section of Alligator Alley because of smoke. The highway was reopened Thursday. Alligator Alley extends from near Naples on Florida’s Gulf Coast, to Broward County in South Florida.