Fire in the Sky
Laughs filled McKethan Stadium at the University of Florida as a public announcement reminded fans there was no smoking allowed in the stands, but it was not a joke to Ray Coffey. After 40 years of collecting tickets for the Gators, he said he has seen fans endure rain and even near-freezing temperatures but nothing like the smoke and ash that filled the sky Tuesday night.
"As far as the smoke and everything, we've never had this before," Coffey said.
While fans left the game early, Coffey remained in his seat in front of the gate. Even season ticket holders, such as Sophia Moffett, could not make it through the full nine innings, no matter what protective measures they took.
"All of the ash that's in the air, it's irritating the daylights out of my lungs and my eyes," Moffett said through the surgical mask covering her mouth and nose.
Conditions were even worst in the Northeast Portion of Alachua County, closer to the fires. American Red Cross workers relocated their shelter at the First Baptist Church in Waldo to the United Methodist Church in Northwest Gainesville for that very reason.
"The air quality in that area was so much worse than we've got here," Maryann Grigsby explained. "They were afraid that a lot of folks with respiratory problems would encounter difficulties in that area."
Although the air quality in Gainesville was better by comparison, some fans were surprised the Gators continued to play.
"I'm not so concerned about us as the fans, but the players out there," Bill Millard said. "I think it'd be very difficult for the outfielders to see the baseball coming at them. It's difficult out there."
But the Gators played on, and as more season ticket holder left the game early, they all said goodbye to Coffey as they passed.
"One gentleman came and said, "I can't take it anymore. I have to get home and get in the shelter.""
By Ted Latiak, WCJB TV20 News.
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