That smoky air that is burning our eyes in downtown Fort Lauderdale? It's coming from six fires burning 100 miles west in the Big Cypress National Preserve.
A change in wind direction brought the smoke from blazes that began after lightning strikes in Collier County on May 8, and began clouding our blue skies Thursday morning.
The fires have burned on both sides of Interstate 75 and so far, have damaged 30, 250 acres and are just 13 percent contained.
We may feel the effects in South Florida into the weekend. Along I-75 between mile markers 59 and 75, drivers may encounter smoky conditions.
"It's unusual to have these kinds of winds," said Catherine Hibbard, an information officer who is part of a 349-member team of scientists, firefighters, pilots and heavy equipment operators that is working to put the fires out. "The winds will be shifting back to the east on Saturday."
Seven helicopters, six planes and eight fire engines are fighting the fires that have closed recreation areas to the public. Two are very large: 10,472 acres on the north side of I-75 that is approaching the highway, and 19,561 acres on the south side.
"It's quite an air show here," Hibbard said. "It's so remote and inaccessible, it's unsafe to put a lot of firefighters into the interior because we wouldn't be able to get them out if there was an emergency."
Their efforts are hampered by a water table that is six to eight inches lower than normal and rain that isn't falling in the right places, Hibbard said.
There were also two fires that burned about 50 acres in Miami-Dade County, near Southwest 137th Avenue and Southwest 184th Street, west of Zoo Miami, that the Florida Forest Service said was under control.
Dr. Donny Perez, an emergency medicine specialist at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, said Thursday morning he hadn't yet seen any patients who felt sick from the smoky air.
"The people at risk are those who have chronic heart and lung conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; emphysema and asthma," Perez said. "To avoid becoming ill, stay indoors, in air conditioning."
He said older persons as well as very young children whose lungs were not yet fully formed may also be affected.
"It might be harder on them to handle the smoke and fine particles in the air," Perez said.
Symptoms may include itchy eyes, runny nose, sinus pain, headaches, shortness of breath or sore throat.
"People with lung problems who might require additional medication or more frequent doses should check with their doctors," Perez said.
Though the smoky conditions may make some South Floridians uncomfortable, the burned lands in Big Cypress will be good for creatures of the Everglades like deer and turkeys, Hibbard said.
"The land will become green in a few days," Hibbard said. "The fire helps to rejuvenate the habitats for endangered species like the Florida panther, and the Red-cockaded Woodpecker that build holes in trees. Keeping the [brush] open keeps predators like snakes from climbing to their nests."
Eight agencies — the National Park Service; U.S. Forest Service; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge; Florida Forest Service; Seminole Tribe of Florida; Florida Highway Patrol and Collier County office of emergency management — are among the groups working in the fire zones.
From our media partner Sun Sentinel