Book burning is being blamed for a massive wildfire in northeast Florida that has left up to 15 homes damaged or destroyed and evacuated more than 100 people, fire officials said.
Nearly 400 acres in Nassau County, just outside Jacksonville, have been swept up by the blaze that’s being called the worst the county’s seen in nearly two decades, The Florida Times-Union reported.
Approximately 65 percent of the fire is contained as of Thursday morning, the Florida Forest Service announced.
Authorities said that someone burning paperback books on Wednesday afternoon caused the blaze. Burning household garbage is illegal in Florida, FFS said.
Annaleasa Winter of the Florida Forest Service, speaking at a press conference Wednesday evening, said of the man burning books that some of the paper “got away from him,” according to CNN.
A reason for the book burning was not released.
Officials said the person responsible for setting the fire will be held financially responsible, local station CBS 47 reported.
Residents that were forced to flee their homes are meanwhile still processing what has become a nightmare reality.
“I’m fixing to lose everything that we have that worked hard for,” Beverly Thomas told the CBS station while fighting back tears. “There’s a lot of things that we’re not going to be able to replace. Pictures, furniture that was my grandmother’s, and just, my grandchildren’s pictures.”
Jessica Fouraker, who Jax4News reported is one of 150 people that have been displaced by the blaze, told the station that she will pray for and not hate the man accused of starting the fire.
“I don’t think hating that person is going to help anything. He thought he could burn some stuff, and it got out of hand,” she told the station. “The best I can do is to pray for him and his family and the journey they have from there.”
Florida has seen 250 percent more burned acreage during the first three months of 2017 than last year during the same time period, state officials said Wednesday.
“More than 1,000 wildfires have burned more than 46,000 acres, which is an increase from approximately 700 wildfires that burned 12,900 acres during the first three months of 2016,” the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said in a release.
Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam urged residents to use extreme caution when handling outdoor fires as dry conditions are forecast for the next few months.