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War Against Wildfires At A Draw

It was still difficult to see the sun in steamy Daytona Beach Saturday, and impossible to take a breath without tasting smoke, but for the first time, firefighters said the wildfires are contained. The month-long war against brushfires is now a draw.

"This is a difficult enemy to fight. It's like wrestling with an eight-armed octopus." George Thune of the Federal Emergency Management Agency told CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts.

State officials said that wildfires have consumed more than 225,000 acres in Florida. The federal government has spent $32 million to fight it and the final bill isn't in yet.

The flames, a record heat wave, and a month-long drought have cost Florida farmers a third of their crop and $190 million. Cattle farmers have been forced to rush their cows to market early, or go broke.

The temperature and thick smoke have made for a deadly mix. Two people with respiratory problems died this week, and hospitals have been overrun with respiratory emergencies.

"For the last three days I'd stick my nose out the door and I couldn't breath," Paul Monaco, an emphysema patient said.

For weeks, Florida residents have prayed for rain, hoping Mother Nature would do what firefighters could not. So far she hasn't delivered, but science has helped stem the crisis.

With the aid of their neighbors at the Kennedy Space Center, firefighters used helicopters equipped with infrared cameras to see through thick smoke and pinpoint the fires.

"We're trying to prevent any structures from being damaged," one helicopter pilot explained.

Emergency workers also have a garage filled with ping-pong balls loaded with magnesium. When mixed with a second chemical, the magnesium powder burns.

The balls are dropped from helicopters to start small back fires. The technigue is used to burn off dry brush the wildfires depend on for fuel.

In the end, it will take rain and plenty of it to do what men with big buckets and deep pockets cannot - douse a fire that firefighters nicknamed "The Dragon."

"What we're hoping for is a tropical depression of some kind to come into the state with 1-2 inches of rain daily for five days to really soak the ground," said Greg Thayer of the U.S. Forestry Service. "Florida could use about 10 inches of rain, but not all at once or we will have a different problem - flooding."

Firefighters came from six states to help battle the worst wildfire outbreak in Florida in 60 years.

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