Disney World Narrowly Escapes Highway Brush Fire

By: CNN (posted by Justin Surrency) Email
By: CNN (posted by Justin Surrency) Email

A brush fire near Disney World prompted authorities to bar traffic in both directions along a major central Florida highway for several hours at the beginning of the busy Memorial Day weekend, a police spokeswoman said.

Large plumes of white and gray smoke hovered over and around Interstate 4 for much of Friday afternoon, footage from CNN affiliate WKMG showed.

Flames rising about 6 feet high could be seen rising from one section off the highway, just off an exit ramp to Epcot/Downtown Disney and South International Drive. Firefighters aboard what looked like a red pickup drove up to it and shot water to subdue that part of the fire.

Other overhead footage showed a tractor-like vehicle roving through lightly forested areas off a highway, where small patches of fire were evident. A small section of grass could be seen burning along one stretch of road, mere feet from where cars were buzzing by.

By 3 p.m., eastbound lanes of that interstate highway had been shut down around Osceola Parkway because of the fire, according to Kim Montes, a spokeswoman for the Florida Highway Patrol. Soon afterward, state troopers shut westbound lanes of the same highway, shuttling that traffic onto U.S. 528.

But the situation improved considerably over the course of the afternoon, with increasingly fewer flames and less smoke visible.

And by 5:30 p.m., Interstate 4 had reopened in both directions, according to Montes.

Joseph Sikon, a 21-year-old who attends medical school in Orlando, said he first noticed the blaze after getting out of a movie theater Friday afternoon in Downtown Disney, part of the Walt Disney World Resort.

"It was this large cloud of pluming smoke," said Sikon, a CNN iReporter. "Obviously, it was a very large fire."

David Charlton, a Shelbyville, Kentucky, resident staying at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Kissimmee, said he first noticed smoke about 1:30 p.m. Within 15 minutes, the situation had deteriorated significantly.

"It was pretty smoky and irritating to breathe," said Charlton, who submitted photographs to CNN iReport from outside the hotel that showed Orange County fire vehicles directly across the street.

He said activities at the resort were initially called off because of the fire. But later in the afternoon, there was an announcement that the fire was under control.

The fire struck in and around a tourist haven at the onset of Memorial Day weekend, traditionally one of the busiest travel periods of the year.

This month, AAA predicted that there would be a 1.2% increase in travel through Florida this weekend, compared with the same period last year. Overall, the organization expects 34.8 million people nationwide to travel 50 miles or more over this Memorial Day stretch, the vast majority of them -- 30.7 million -- doing so by car, truck or bus.

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