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Firefighters find charred body while extinguishing wildfire in south Florida

OSTEEN, Fla. (AP) — Firefighters found a charred body after dousing a brush fire in south Florida on Sunday, while fire crews elsewhere in the drought-stricken state battled wildfires that temporarily closed a highway and forced some residents to be evacuated from their homes.

Pompano Beach Fire Rescue crews were extinguishing a blaze when they discovered the body, and officials said they couldn’t determine whether the person was male or female, WTVJ-TV reported. Firefighters said some people had been living in camps in the wooded area, but weren’t sure if the victim had been living there.

Pompano Beach fire investigators, the state fire marshal and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office were investigating the cause of the fire and the death.

To the north, more than 900 acres (360 hectares) had burned near Osteen in Volusia County as of Sunday. The Florida Forest Service said the fire was 90% contained. The fire broke out Saturday and may have been sparked by the remains of an earlier wildfire, Volusia County Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Scott Smoak told WESH-TV.

Most of central and southern Florida are currently experiencing drought conditions, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center, with the driest conditions concentrated around Sarasota and Punta Gorda. Outdoor burning of yard debris is currently banned by 13 central and southwest Florida counties, according to the Florida Forest Service.

“We’re extremely dry, especially in this part of the county. Any bit of people burning outdoors, any type of, you know, vehicles that creates sparks, those are our main concerns,” Smoak said.

So far this year, more than 1,100 wildfires have been reported in Florida, burning more than 24,000 acres (9,800 hectares), the state forest service reports.

A smaller fire Saturday in North Port briefly forced the closure of the northbound lanes of Interstate 75, with some residents being evacuated. The fire was 80% contained late Saturday, with firefighters saying Sunday they worked through the night and were continuing to douse hotspots.

In Martin County, smoke lingered Sunday from a fire that was sparked Friday from the remains of a previous fire. A helicopter was dropping water on the fire, WPTV-TV reported, although the blaze was 90% contained.

Derek Craver told WPEC-TV that he had to evacuate when the fire burned dangerously close to his house.

“We were sitting in the house and the smoke started getting close. It looked thick. I looked out there and saw flames,” Craver said. “It’s kind of hectic, a little bit of panic especially when they tell you to leave.”

No houses were damaged and residents were allowed to return.