Florida Brush Fires Close I-95

Dark plumes of smoke rose high over frustrated drivers Thursday when a brush fire closed Interstate 95 in both directions in northern Palm Beach County.

The line of all-but-parked cars stretched for miles as authorities re-routed southbound traffic onto the Florida Turnpike in Hobe Sound, and northbound traffic onto Indiantown Road in Jupiter for about three hours.

Most lanes were reopened by 5 p.m. EDT.

The 75-acre blaze started on the east side of the highway and jumped to the west side. A shopping plaza was briefly evacuated, but the fire was contained and it did not damage any homes or businesses.

Meanwhile, in the southwestern part of Palm Beach County, water managers began giving smoldering, smoke-spewing muck in the Everglades something Mother Nature would not: a good dousing.

Forestry officials managed to put out surface flames on 26,000 acres of dried sawgrass and brush in the Rotenberger Wildlife Management Area earlier this week. But 10,000 acres of organically rich peat continued to burn underground, sending smoke and stench across South Florida.

The only way to put it out is with a flood, and there's no rain in the foreseeable forecast, said David Utley, district manager for the state Division of Forestry.

So, four massive pumps together worth nearly $1 million were being installed about a mile apart to suck 25,000 gallons of water from the Miami Canal to help soak the vast fire area, said Sharon Hasty, a spokeswoman for the South Florida Water Management District.

One pump began sending water over the area late Wednesday; the rest should be installed and all should be running by late Friday, she said.

It wasn't known how long it would take for the water to stifle the smoke coming from the 10,000 acres near the intersection of Broward, Palm Beach and Hendry counties.

"It's not going to flood quickly," Hasty said.

The skies over southeast Florida were clearer Thursday than they had been in several days. But the nasty smell of smoke likely will linger from Miami up the east coast to nearly Fort Pierce until there is a wind-shift.

Jim Lushine, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami, said the wind was expected to shift to an easterly direction by the weekend.

"Once the winds shift around, the smoke will be going to the west coast," he said. "The people in Naples and Fort Myers will have to deal with it."

So far this year, 3,636 wildfires have scorched 274,969 acres.