A wildfire is burning across an estimated 400 acres of forest on Jacksonville’s Northside, according to the Florida Forest Service.
Nassau County Emergency Management reported Interstate 95 was closed in both directions between State Road 200 in Yulee and Pecan Park on Jacksonville’s Northside on Thursday afternoon.
The Florida Department of Transportation said drivers could take U.S. 17 as an alternate route.
The Florida Highway Patrol is monitoring the situation to determine when I-95 can be safely reopened in the area. Updates about the status of I-95 will be posted on the FHP Twitter page.
The fire – which officials said began just west of Highway 17 near railroad tracks – is centralized near Yellow Bluff road. It was only 25 percent contained as of Thursday afternoon.
Officials are still investigating what caused the fire. No structural damage or injuries have been reported.
“The winds are out of the east, so the smoke is blowing toward the west, which is I-95,” said Annaleasa Winter, a wildfire mitigation specialist for FFS.
“That’s a huge issue.”
Earlier one lane was closed off for equipment and emergency vehicles.
Drivers in the area are encouraged to use caution when traveling, as smoke decreases visibility.
“Smoke is a huge issue, particularly in the middle of the night,” Winter said. “You have to be prepared for the visibility to go from low to none. Things happen very rapidly.”
Officials said slowing down on the roads where drivers see smoke is essential, along with using low-beam headlights and getting off the road if visibility is too low.
Burn damage has reached a few private properties, along with a portion of some marshlands belonging to the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve.
A helicopter surveyed the situation from above to get a more accurate measure of how far the fire spans.
Two aircraft, four bulldozers and equipment crews were working on the scene at last report.
The dry and hot temperatures in Northeast Florida this week have added to the difficulties in minimizing the large burn.
“We’re having to find alternative ways to fight the fire, such as dropping water from a helicopter,” said Winter. “With the lack of rain and the dryness we’re having to let the fire come up on some higher ground and then get in there with some equipment.”
The terrain along I-95 has made it hard for crews to move deeper into the forest to reduce the flames.
“It’s huge bottom land forest with huge downed trees and thick timber,” Winter said. “We have to look for areas that are high and dry to fight it.”
Officials said the scorched trees and bushes will be fine and return to full form as long as the roots have not been damaged underneath the soil.
The Florida Forest Service will continue providing updates on the blaze. For more information, go to FloridaForestService.com.