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Amber Alert

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Parts of Interstate 4 Closed in Polk County

Smoke from an out-of-control brush fire near State Road 33 in Polk County has forced officials to close a 14-mile stretch of Interstate 4 from the Polk Parkway to U.S. 27 near Davenport. Tolls have been suspended in both directions on the Polk Parkway until noon, when Florida Highway Patrol officials will review the situation again.

The Florida Highway Patrol, the Polk County Sheriff's Office and several other agencies are working a 50-vehicle accident in the area, according to various spokespeople. That number includes six cars that are completely burned and 20 tractor trailers, including two that are on fire.

At least three people have died and six have been transported two local hospitals. At least two people were still trapped at 8:30 a.m.

"This visibility situation has been a huge impediment. It’s a tragic situation. So many vehicles involved," said Polk County spokeswoman Cindy Rodriguez. She said they got the first call about 5:45 a.m.

Many things are coming together to make the situation worse, Rodriguez said, including people going to school or work. The closing of I-4 will be an inconvenience throughout the day, she said.

No one knows when the interstate will reopen.

Trooper Larry Coggins of the FHP said troopers are literally walking along the interstate trying to locate accidents because of thick smoke and fog.

Emergency officials said in an interview on Bay News 9 that they have located some accident victims only after hearing them scream.

Two school buses are being used to evacuate people who do not need immediate medical attention.

Visibility is extremely limited because of the smoke from the brush fires in the area. The brushfire began Tuesday as a controlled burn by Fish and Wildlife. But because of the dry condition from drought and recent cold temperatures, the fire quickly got out of control. It went from a 280-acre controlled burn on Tuesday to 430 acres now, Rodriguez said.

Others have said more than 700 acres have burned, including some acres burned as firefighters tried to control the first out-of-control burn.

The fire continues to burn north of the interstate near SR 557. Some of the fire is in the Green Swamp area, which is of particular concern to the Florida Division of Forestry because of extremely low water levels.

Motorists should anticipate alternate routes. Eastbound travelers on I-4 can leave the interstate at Lakeland and follow U.S. 92 east to U.S. 27, then north to the interstate. However, 92 and 27 are clogged at the moment.

Those who are on U.S. 27 can go to U.S. 17, then take 540 into Lakeland.

Smoky conditions are expected to remain for several days. Source