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Praying For Rain Amid The Ashes

Firefighters from across the country are here in Volusia County, where the fire is so monstrous that flames are being bypassed for more winnable smaller battles.

This county has lost about 158,000 acres to the fire so far, and that number continues to grow. The residents here were praying for rain, but it was raining only ashes. Then, when the rain did fall, the lightning that accompanied it sparked new blazes.

From a personal standpoint, one striking feature is the noise. It's not unlike a jungle safari where you can hear the lions in the brush, but cannot see them.

As the flames eat their way through the forest, the heat consumes water in the plants, causing trees to pop. That noise can be heard far in advance of actually seeing the flames.

As I flew into Daytona Beach, the pilot warned passengers that they would soon smell smoke, making assurances it was not the plane.

Sure enough, the smell became overwhelming and at the point where we should easily have been able to see faces on the ground, all that we saw was smoke. Walking through the airport, you could practically taste the flames that were raging in the distance.

The firefighters have been working 16-hour days, and morale is upbeat despite the size of the battle ahead. They have been trained and prepared for such a crisis as this. It is a "career opportunity."

While politicians and state officials have convened here, it's the firefighters who are offering the most honest opinion of the situation. When asked what will happen, most say simply, "I don't know."

All forms of life are fleeing the burning wilderness. On Tuesday CBS News cameraman Tim Chumley and soundman Craig Anderson were shooting near the flames. When Chumley got down on the ground to position a low camera angle, he saw a snake slither between his legs. Fleeing along with the snake, he thought, was probably a good idea.

Written by CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts

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