Dozens of homes and buildings were destroyed overnight, 35,000 people fled their homes and the fires ravaging two counties were only expected to get bigger.
"Mother nature is not cooperating. We're expecting gusts of wind up to 20 mph throughout the day. Things will get worse as the day progresses," said Joe Wooden, a spokesman for Volusia County Emergency Management, just after sunrise Thursday. Temperatures above 100 were forecast.In Brevard County, just south of Volusia on Florida's east coast, Fire Chief Mark Francesconi said firefighters did not have enough equipment and help to keep the blazes away from homes. He said he did not think fires could be stopped before they reached the Indian River to the southeast.
"This is ugly," Francesconi said. "There are houses burning right now. They're very short of resources."
Officials were trying to tally the number of buildings destroyed. In Volusia, the early count was at least 10 homes and 20 business.
In Brevard, about 50 homes were destroyed along with many businesses.
"I don't know if you've ever seen napalm," said Jerry Lefreniere, who was forced to flee his home in Mims. "The results of napalm, that's what it looks like out there."
He said when the order came to evacuate, "I asked him, `How much time? And he says `NOW!' And we could see the flames coming through the trees. My wife and I just got in the cars and drove."
The state's seemingly never-ending battle against the fires heated up Wednesday when blazes jumped firebreaks and seemed immune to an aerial water assault.
Flames injured at least five firefighters in Brevard County - three of whom suffered second-degree burns.
Since Memorial Day, more than 1,900 fires have burned more than 280,000 acres - an area of more than 425 square miles. In an average year, Florida fires burn 112,000 acres.
Gov. Lawton Chiles canceled a 10-day vacation in North Carolina on Thursday because of the crisis. He said the wildfires, which damaged or destroyed at least 86 homes, have lasted much longer and threatened a far wider area than the fires of summer 1985, which destroyed 200 homes in the Palm Coast area.
More than 125 miles of Interstate 95 - the major East Coast artery - was closed between Titusville and Jacksonville to the north. As the sun came up Thursday, fires were torching homes as firefighters rushed to keep up with the hot spots.
In Daytona Beach, the NASCAR Pepsi 400 July 4 race at Daytona International Speedway was postponed until October because of the fires. It was the first postponement in the 39-year history of the race.
"This area has been menaced by hurricanes. This is probably the first time in Volusia County history that we've had this kind of an evacuation during a fire," said Len Ciecieznski, a county emergency spokesman.
As a dim glow flickered in the distance, marking the area where firefighters battled to save their homes, about 50 residents near Scottsmoor watched news updates on portable televisions propped up on car hoods.
With the evacuations came quick tempers.
At least three people were arrested in confrontations with deputies.
One of them, Michael Shimshack, was charged with attempted murder for allegedly trying to run down a deputy who wouldn't let him go home to retrieve his boat. The deputy, Ed Hatten, was treated at a hospital after complaining of abdominal pains and numbness.