Fla. Travelers Cautioned About Wildfires

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Clients bound for Florida should be alerted that, according to local health authorities, those with respiratory problems should stay indoors if smoke from wildfires drifts into their areas.

hazy sky in New Smyrna Beach, FloridaAnd younger visitors who look forward to outdoor activity need to know that daytime temperatures are projected to reach the high 90s and low 100s.

Travelers will find it difficult to predict whether they will encounter fire or smoke because wildfires are being touched off by lightning in many areas of the state. About 265 were burning one day this week.

Lingering smoke and/or haze was present last week in Daytona Beach, Gainesville, Jacksonville, New Smyrna Beach, Orlando, Ormond Beach, Perry and Tallahassee. In Orlando on Wednesday, electronic signs on eastbound I-4 warned motorists to use other routes because of smoke ahead. I-4 and I-95 (north-south) were subject to closure by the Florida Highway Patrol. In addition, U.S. 92, one of the best alternatives to I-4 between DeLand and Daytona Beach, was closed in places.

National news reports about wildfires near Ormond Beach generated inquiries from potential visitors to the Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, a spokeswoman said. But there had not been a surge in cancellations, she added, because coastal areas remain fire-free, although not always smoke-free.

She said that fireworks planned in conjunction with the July 4 Pepsi 400 stock car race at Daytona International Speedway will be confined to a lake area for safety reasons. Jacksonville & the Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau reported that "smoky haze" existed in the area but that all attractions remained open and July 4 weekend events, such as an air show over Amelia Island (Fla.) Plantation, still are set. At least nine counties had canceled July 4 fireworks shows.

In the Orlando area, a Travel Weekly correspondent found there was no smoke visible around Sea World and Universal Studios Florida early on June 25. Parking lots appeared to have normal numbers of cars, attendants at both parks said.

On eastbound Interstate-4, an electronic message board signs in Orlando warned: "Heavy smoke, low visibility, Volusia County." Volusia includes DeLand and Daytona Beach. About halfway to Daytona Beach (a 35-minute drive northeast of Orlando), the smoke was visible from I-4, a tourist told Travel Weekly.

Active fires were burning or had the potential to ignite in the Apalachicola National Forest in northwest Florida and the Ocala National Forest, north of Orlando, forestry officials said, adding that clients headed for Everglades National Park and other wildlife sanctuaries should check conditions with federal or state park rangers.

Although there are fewer fires in the southern half of Florida than in the north, the drought conditions present a constant threat statewide. Fires west of the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area were contained at press time.

Campfires are banned statewide, and many communities are prohibiting the sale of fireworks and their use, unless administered by a public authority or an entity such as Walt Disney World.

At press time, the only Florida county that escaped wildfires was Monroe, encompassing the Florida Keys and a sliver of the Everglades. Florida Keys' local chambers of commerce and resorts reported receiving only a handful of inquiries about conditions, a spokeswoman for the Monroe County Tourist Development Council said.

For smoke-related road closure updates, call the Florida Department of Transportation (800) 749-2967 in Florida; (904) 758-3700 elsewhere.

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