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Florida fire forces evacuations

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Hundreds of residents in a neighborhood west of this beachfront community were ordered to leave Thursday as a giant fire moved closer to their homes.

Most residents had ignored a voluntary evacuation advisory in place in the Plantation Pines neighborhood for the past two days. That changed Thursday morning to a mandatory evacuation as the fire inched toward this neighborhood of dirt roads where many families keep horses and other animals.Sue and Les Morris had ignored the voluntary evacuation but were packing up their motor home and preparing to leave just minutes after getting the order.

Morris was worried about his $100,000 car collection, which includes a Mustang convertible and two Corvettes he was restoring. He planned to place some of them in a field in hopes that they wouldn't all burn together.

He had placed sprinklers on his barn and home and planned to stay as long as possible.

"I don't know where I'm going to go," he said.

With dozens of fires burning throughout Florida, state Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford said he would ask the governor later in the day for a statewide ban on the use of fireworks by individuals.

Gov. Lawton Chiles was already considering such a ban and his office said a decision would likely be made by afternoon.

Crawford, whose department is responsible for fighting wildfires in most of Florida, said the ban would prohibit the sale and use of fireworks by individuals, but community displays may be excluded as long as organizers can show that adequate safety measures have been taken.

With the South stuck in a heat wave that has withered crops, firefighters have struggled to keep up with new blazes, even with the support of airplanes, helicopters, water tankers and bulldozers.

In Flagler County, north of Ormond Beach, fires are threatening hundreds of homes. Sheriff's deputies have gone door-to-door informing residents of a mandatory evacuation order issued Tuesday. But they didn't enforce it.

Many residents wanted to soak their homes with water. Others feared looters.

Small fires that broke out Wednesday near DeLand were set intentionally, fire officials said. Investigators were also questioning two juveniles suspected of starting fires in Ormond Beach on Monday.

"There are a lot of wackos running around," said Stan Rosevear, chairman of the Volusia County Council.