The smoke blanketing south Florida lifted early Wednesday as breezes moved in from the northeast. Rain helped firefighters battle the brush fires that have burned 27,000 acres in the Everglades.

The clearing allowed the return of nearly 750 illegal immigrants who had been evacuated Tuesday from a detention center less than a mile from one of the two major fires.Firefighters contained one blaze that burned about 11,000 acres west of the Florida Turnpike in Dade County.

Seb Farina, a spokesman for the state Division of Forestry, said a cold front was bringing northeast winds to clear the air.

"Smoke problems should be eased through the day," he said.

On Tuesday, smoke cloaked the area from the edge of the bone-dry Everglades to downtown Miami. Visibility was less than a quarter mile on many roads.

Coughing residents fled indoors. Health officials warned residents to stay indoors and turn on their air conditioners.

"I came here for sun and I got smoke - figure that out," said Albert Smith, a tourist from Minneapolis, as he squinted into the haze Tuesday.

Evening sea breezes temporarily thinned the smoke cover, and scattered thundershowers appeared Tuesday evening in western Dade, where the fires caused the worst damage.

Firefighters made progress overnight against a 15,000-acre blaze straddling the Tamiami Trail, Florida's southernmost east-west cross-state road, Farina said.

INS district director Perry Rivkind had ordered 745 illegal aliens moved to a baseball stadium in Miami and was planning to send them to a Port Isabel, Texas, immigration camp if the smoke hadn't cleared Wednesday.

Some senior citizens who woke up coughing were alarmed, hospital officials said.

"Fear becomes an integral part of the problem for us. They panic and call rescue," said Dr. John Davison.