It was my usual ride through Ann Dever park testing the gearing on my new Cyclocross bike when I passed a frazzled jogger. He was decked out in a running suit, shorts and a sleeveless shirt with earplugs attached to a smart phone. He halted me with a warning, "There's a fire up ahead. I called 911 but I don't think you can get through that way." I was heading north on the Conservancy trail and continued on until I saw the smoke. The wind was blowing north so I decided to turn south on the Orange trail and take a right on Purple trail coming up behind the fire.
Before me was a blackened wall of char and smoke that completely blocked the trail. Flames rose high on both sides, climbing up the trees and crackling away at the palmetto bushes. I surveyed the area but decided there wasn't anything I could do. It was far from water and I didn't have a phone. The shifting smoke presented a mild threat so with the wail of sirens coming in, I rode out before things got too hot.
A couple hours later, as the thunder beckoned and the rain thudded down, I got in my car to drive north on Placida road toward Englewood High School. The street ahead was blocked by emergency vehicles and they were routing drivers into the adjacent neighborhood. In the distance I could see a combination of heavy rain and smoke that made the road impassable. The Englewood Fire Department was battling a blaze but it didn't seem like the same one I been at earlier. The diverted traffic created a jam on San Casa so I decided to delay my trip for another day.
The next day I grabbed my camera and headed back to the trails to observe the damage. There was a smoky smell as I got closer and you could see the wide tracks where vehicles had been on the trail. The burnt section was surprisingly small. In fact, it wasn't much larger than when I had watched it burning the day before. Considering how far away this was from the High School, I couldn't imagine that it could be responsible for them shutting down the road.
Through the woods I saw a white pick-up truck pull down the Yellow trail, away from an area where they had dug up dirt used to throw on the fire. I assume they were the last crew to finish up. However, they left a few minutes too soon.
You might think that the heavy rains from the night before would drench the ground with enough water to ensure that the fire was complete extinguished but you would be wrong. Even a day later there were pockets of smoke still drifting up in the woods.
While I was taking pictures I noticed that one pocket had re-ignited into flame. I left my bike on the trail, carefully walked into the woods and grabbed a large branch. I used it to brush dirt and ashes onto the flames until they went out. As for damage, there were no downed trees or obstructions of any kind so the Conservancy and Yellow trails are clear for running, walking or biking.
Thinking that the drama was over I rode away to put in some miles. On my way back I came through the same area and saw that the last of the smoke was fading out. Heading back I decided to follow the trail under Placida Road and up the other side where there was a second burnt area. This had to be the reason that they shut down the road. It was right next to the street at the entrance of the Cedar Point Environmental Park. Inside the char there was a distinctively large pile of beer cans and magazines suggesting that someone hung out in that area on regular occasion. The Sarasota-Herald Tribune reported that three "Hot Spots" had been found in Cedar Point but no suspects have been mentioned.
Unfortunately I didn't see anyone (Other than the jogger) during my ride on the day of the fires. However, if you saw anyone suspicious please call the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office at (941) 475-9005.