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Brush fire shuts down I-75 near Tampa

By Greg Botelho and John Branch, CNN
March 31, 2013 -- Updated 0004 GMT (0804 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The 50-acre fire, which burned a mobile home, is contained
  • NEW: I-75 northbound reopens, though southbound traffic was still closed around 3:15 p.m.
  • The fire had caused the highway's closure due to "zero visibility," a sheriff's office says
  • The National Weather Service warns of "dry fuels and low relative humidity" in the area

(CNN) -- A brush fire near Tampa, Florida, prompted authorities Saturday afternoon to shut down Interstate 75 in both directions, a local sheriff's office said.

The blaze was centered in Ruskin, about 20 miles south of Tampa near Florida's Gulf coast, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. First reported as extending five acres, the fire eventually grew to 50 acres, said Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokesman Ronnie Rivera.

Southbound traffic was being diverted off the highway at Sun City Center "due to zero visibility." For a time, vehicles likely were also prohibited from moving northbound. The closure extended for 11 miles -- between mile markers 229 and 240 -- the Florida Department of Transportation reported on Twitter.

By 3:15 p.m., the fire was contained -- although, by then, a mobile home was destroyed and several vehicles had burned, according to Rivera. Conditions had improved enough to allow for I-75 traffic to resume moving northbound; southbound traffic was still stopped because of poor visibility.

The National Weather Service had issued a hazardous weather outlook for the area, warning that "dry fuels and low relative humidity will result in favorable conditions for the spread of wild fires."

Saturday's forecast for Ruskin was for mostly sunny skies with high temperatures around 76 degrees and sustained south-southwest winds of around 10 mph.

Conditions should be even warmer and windier Sunday, the weather service predicts, with a high near 80 degrees and winds gusting as strong as 21 mph.

Video on CNN affiliate WFTS's website showed white smoke rising near the highway -- as throngs of vehicles in one direction sat seemingly at a standstill -- and mingled with puffs of clouds on an otherwise picture-perfect spring day.

CNN's Jennifer Moore contributed to this report.

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