700-acre Florida brush fire started by book-burner

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Florida Forest Service photo

Florida Forest Service officials say a nearly 700-acre brush fire has forced the evacuation of a neighborhood and threatened or burned up to 15 homes.

Nassau County Emergency Management Director Billy Estep ordered residents of the neighborhood near the Georgia line in northeast Florida to evacuate Wednesday. The fire started when a man began burning books in his yard around 2 p.m. Wednesday.

Officials initially thought they'd contained the flames to about 5 acres, but the fire quickly got out of control and spread because of the gusty winds.  It then spread to an area Estep described as about a half-mile wide by 2 miles long.

As of Thursday afternoon, officials said, the fire had grown to 696 acres and was about 65-percent contained.

At least 150 residents were forced to leave their homes.

Action News Jacksonville reported that the Florida Forest Service said they’d identified the person who started the fire and will be holding him financially responsible for damages, though they did not publicly name him.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.