LAKE PLACID—A fast-moving wildfire roared through the neighborhood of Leisure Lakes Tuesday afternoon, damaging a home on Hoover Avenue and destroying two boats, two sheds, a dock and a van.
Authorities suspect arson behind the fire that scorched 70 acres, and have announced a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
Fire departments from Highlands County and firefighters from Florida Forest Service and from South Carolina were credited with saving about 30 homes in the wildfire’s path. No one was injured.
The areas involved were bordered on the east by Daffodil Street and Lake Crews Avenue to the south and Wildflower Street to the west.
The fire came within inches of many homes. The high winds fed the fire and caused it to jump and spread in an unpredictable manner. The Florida Forestry Service used a spotter plane to communicate with the ground crews on which way the fire was spreading. A helicopter was fitted with a water bucket, which was filled from Lake June, to assist in dousing the flames from above.
Community Safety Director Scott Canaday said that the fire took about four hours to control.
“We were able to stop the forward progress,” said Canaday. “It is contained but it will still smolder for a while.”
Canaday had other counties either on the scene or en route to help. Okeechobee, Glades, DeSoto counties were on scene and Lee County was on standby.
Billy and Lynn Masters noticed the flames at their Lake Crews Avenue home about 2:15 p.m. They began to notify their neighbors and turn on their sprinklers before the flames became too close.
“It was like a wall of fire,”Masters said. “It all happened so fast. The flames went right over our house.”
Anne Daigle was working when her co-worker and Chief of Lake Placid Volunteer Fire Department Adam Hess told her about the fire.
“I have never been so scared in my life,” Daigle said. “At first they wouldn’t let me in the house but I told deputy Cooper that my dog was in there and he let me in. The lots burned and a van that was on the side of my house blew up. I count myself lucky. It could have been so much worse. God was watching out for us all. I cannot thank the firemen enough.”
Many such stories were told by the homeowners and witnesses. Neighbors came out to support one another. After rescuing his dogs and checking on his sister’s safety, Kyle Brower passed out bottles of water on his ATV to the firemen and witnesses. As of Wednesday morning, the fire was still hot, said Melissa Yunas, wildfire mitigation specialist with Forest Service.
“We will be out there every day until the fire is 100 percent out,” said Yunas. “There are still hotspots and smoldering that could reignite. We are asking everyone to stay out of the burn area.”
The fire has been deemed suspicious and is being investigated by the Department of Agriculture Law Enforcement.
Yunas explained why the Forest Service felt the fire was deliberately set.“With every wildfire there is a V formed,” Yunas said. “If you trace that back, you can find the point of origin. Because of the point of origin, weather and burn pattern, they consider the fire suspicious.”
The point of origin was near the corner of Daffodil Street and Lake Crews Avenue. There is a $5,000 reward if a tip leads to an arrest. Call 863-467-3221 with information.