Lightning causes large fire on Egmont Key

- Fire crews spent Tuesday battling a wildfire on Egmont Key. You could see the tall plume of smoke for miles.

By sundown, U.S. Fish and Wildlife reported that fire crews had the 35-acre fire about 25% contained.

No one lives on the island but time is precious when you consider all of the wildlife that take refuge at Egmont Key.

Fort DeSoto Park, a usually quiet and serene getaway, was the boarding zone for fire crews with a big job on their hands.

"The smoke throughout the day has been pretty scary. For the most part, it's been going straight up," said Angela Gabbert, who works at the park.

At times, flames shot high into the air. And, as the wind shifted, ashes blew all the way to Fort DeSoto.

"There's been a lot of black smoke and you can see the flames flare up and then it'll go through a period where the smoke will turn white and almost look like it's going out several times. Then, it'll flare back up again," said Heath Howell, visiting from Plant City with his family.

"It's not like other areas where you can just attach to a fire hydrant and put that fire out," Gabbert said. "Egmont doesn't have a huge water supply you can tap into."

Lightning is believed to have sparked the fire, perhaps Monday or overnight into Tuesday.

"You can see the flames, probably 20-30 feet high on occasion," Howell said.

By sunset, crews were setting back fires in hopes of protecting historic structures. If there's any silver lining, it's that the fire is in the center of the island, with the wind pushing it north, away from the wildlife refuge.

"That, to me, hits me as heartbreaking," Gabbert said. "I know about all the wildlife on the island. You've got gopher tortoises, box turtles, you've got lots of birds out there."

"We have brown pelicans, ibis, royal terns, sandwich terns, common terns," said Joyce Galiardo, the Vice President of Friends of Tampa Bay National Wildlife Refuges.

She's watching closely, hopeful the life and the history of island are spared.

"Oh, it tears my heart. I've been going out here since 2004," Galiardo said. "On the north end, there's a big colony of Skimmers. Actually, this weekend, there were chicks hatching so they were all running around."

While people enjoyed their visits to Fort DeSoto Park Tuesday, it was hard not to notice rising smoke in the distance.

"The sand is beautiful, the water is beautiful," Howell said. "It's really too bad."

All different local, state and federal agencies have had a part in trying to put out this fire, from Tampa Fire to the Florida Department of Environment Protection. It's been a team effort, with helicopters and boats going back and forth.

Crews will likely be out there for a few days, making sure it doesn't spread any more, and once it's out, making sure it doesn't reignite.

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