Witness said Marion County wildfire was throwing fireballs into air



MARION COUNTY, Fla. - Channel 9 has talked with Marion County residents whose homes were destroyed by a raging wildfire over the weekend.

Crews said the 1,900-acre fire destroyed at least 24 structures, including 10 homes, trailers and hunting camps.

The fire started on Saturday in the Ocala National Forest, but a stiff wind helped fan the flames rapidly.

The fire has been contained, but it is not fully out.

On Monday, people who were evacuated as flames closed in on their homes, were allowed back only to find their homes and possessions destroyed.

Deep in the forest, part of a tiny community known as Sportman's Haven, burned to the ground.

“In 44 years, I've never seen anything close to this fire.  This was a fire storm,” said resident Walter Lunsford.

“It was a wind-driven fire.  We had wind gusts up to 35 mph,” said Ludie Bond of the Florida Forest Service.

“My neighbors who stayed said what made it so hard to fight, was it was throwing fireballs into the air, basketball size.  When they hit the ground, they'd explode and make 5-foot rings of fire,” said Lunsford.

The cause of the wildfire is still unknown, but just one spark in dry conditions could have set it off, authorities said.

Firefighters still have a lot of work to do to snuff out the hot spots.