The Alligator Alley portion of I-75 has been closed since Wednesday and could be closed through Friday as a brush fire continues to burn through the Big Cypress portion of the Everglades.
View Flaming Gators in a larger map
December through May marks the dry season for the Everglades and 2009 has been a continuation of a multi-year drought. Typically the Fort Myers area gets around 18 inches of rain in the dry season and so far we've had 2 inches. The map below shows the Drought Index. The grey line cutting through the pink section of southern Florida is the Alligator Alley portion of I-75 . Pink is not good and purple is about as dry as you can get. Combine dry earth and lightning strikes and/or cigarette butts flicked out of vehicles and you have a recipe for fire disasters.
While fire is a natural part of the Everglades ecosystem, timing is everything and as the last of the nesting birds prepare to send their fledglings off into the world, a wild brush fire can be deadly to those that are not ready to leave the nest.
For Alligators the threat is less dire and the image of flaming gators leaping from the banks of the canals along Alligator Alley is surely far fetched. Although water is hard to come by these days in the Everglades, all wise alligators are always within a few feet of water. They need it to regulate their body temperature. They need it to find prey and they use the watery canals like super-highways.
The threat to motorists is two-fold. Alligator Alley was upgraded to a 4 lane highway in 1986, but wildfires can creep across the median and hop the road with the help of drifting ash, but the thick clouds of smoke pose the biggest threat to motorists, causing limited visibility. So for now - the interstate is closed.
Eventually, the summer rains will return and wildfires are less likely to rage across the glades but smokers that flick a butt out the window should always be scolded - Mother Nature can start fires herself.