HERNANDO BEACH (FOX 13) - A massive wildfire in Hernando County was almost completely contained by Monday afternoon and could be completely out by the end of the day, the Florida Forest Service said.
Firefighters believe a lightning strike late last week sparked the flames in the Weeki Wachee Preserve, which smoldered unnoticed until the ground dried out and the wind picked up.
By Sunday night, the brush fire that had only covered a couple acres on Saturday had spread to about 650 acres. And by Monday morning, the fire had spread across 1,100 acres.
"Our goal was to keep it contained in this preserve on this side of Shoal Line Boulevard and we were very successful," said Judith Tear, a spokesperson for the Florida Forest Service. "We had a lot of resources. We had like 60 people here yesterday."
According to forestry officials, firefighters had contained 90 percent of the fire by late Monday afternoon. Tear said the good news all along was that the fire never put any homes in danger.
"It's in the area luckily where there's not a lot of homes," Tear told FOX 13. "You could have a smaller fire but in an urban interface that could cause much more damage. So I'm telling people to be vigilant and keep an eye on the weather, keep an eye on the news, but they should not be worried."
The last two days have been tense for homeowners and business owners who were keeping an eye on the rising plume of smoke.
"There was really big smoke clouds out there yesterday, so that's the first time I've ever seen anything like that," said Allen Sherrod, who lives in Weeki Wachee.
Sherrod is a pilot and flew his plane over the fire Sunday morning to see how big it was and how close it was to homes.
"I wasn't looking at barren land; I was looking at burnt land. Everything down there was burnt," he said "We know that there's nothing but woods between here and all the way to Cedar Key. If this isn't contained, it could wipe out thousands of homes."
Homeowners and business owners were relieved to see how quickly firefighters were able to get the flames under control.
"To see the smoke and actually see some of the flames was something, but obviously they've done a good job today," said John Mahony, who owns Upper Deck restaurant. "That's a large fire and I'm sure those guys have earned their money this week."