All people in Flagler County - at least 30,000 - were ordered to leave Friday as wildfires showed no sign of ending their six-week romp through northeast Florida.
"The fire is north, south and west," said Don North, spokesman for Federal Emergency Management Agency in Tallahassee. "A concern is that they will converge and you'll get one big fire."Fires burned through the neighboring towns of Bunnell and Palm Coast early Friday. More than half of Palm Coast, which has a population of 15,000, was already under a mandatory evacuation.
About 200 to 300 people staying in a shelter at Flagler Palm Coast High School cleared the building within 10 minutes after officials from the American Red Cross announced the evacuation.
"Hopefully we'll have a county to come back to," said Roy Pistone, Flagler County schools food service director, who quickly shifted gears from defrosting ground turkey to throwing it out. "We're trying to put everything away and lock things up here."
Residents were advised to head west to the inland city of Palatka. Buses were provided, but the Red Cross recommended people take their own cars.
The fires along the state's ravaged east coast showed no sign of letting up, with a smoky haze obscuring the sky as far away as Miami, 250 miles to the south. Firefighters have been stymied by gusty winds and temperatures of more than 100 degrees.
The flames have burned more than 125 homes and blackened more than 425 square miles, twice the land touched by fires in a normal year in Florida. In addition to the Flagler County evacuations, some 40,000 were out of their homes in two other east coast counties, Brevard and Volusia.
The fires have wrecked many Fourth of July plans, forced the postponement of Saturday's Pepsi 400 stock car race at Daytona International Speedway and closed nearly 100 miles of I-95 95 - the major highway along the East Coast - before one of the busiest travel weekends of the year.
Million-dollar homes and double-wide trailers alike were threatened in dozens of developments along a corridor stretching 60 miles from Titusville to Palm Coast, which is roughly halfway between Daytona Beach and St. Augustine.
"There are fires all over," said Charles Spagnola, who left his home in Ormond Beach as fires came within a half-mile. "You never know when another is going to start up. It's like sitting on a pile of dynamite."
Gov. Lawton Chiles called on Florida mayors to send more equipment, including bulldozers, to clear fire lines around residential areas. With dry, blustery conditions predicted for the weekend, progress simply means not losing ground. Aerial water drops help, but the only salvation appears to be rain.
Before they fled their home in Brevard County, Catherine and Danny Goodrich man-aged to grab a suitcase of clothes, a box of photos and a stuffed deer head. A fire tore through their double-wide trailer near Scottsmoor overnight, leaving behind a charred metal frame.
As they toured the debris Thursday, they found the blackened bones of their 12-year-old dog, Murder, nestled on the remains of their bed.
"It felt just like my insides were pulled out of me," Goodrich said. "I felt sick to my stomach."