Polk Co. wildfires 85 percent contained; still at 5,500 acres burned

- A wildfire burning in southeastern Polk County that has consumed 5,500 acres is now 85 percent contained, officials said Sunday evening. Florida Forest Service is scaling back  the widening fire lines andincresing the use of water along the fire perimeter.

The blaze, which is burning in a rural area east of Frostproof, caused significant smoke and flames continue to be an issue for traffic passing through the area on County Road 630 and State Road 60, but crews are keeping an eye on the roads. Firefighters, meanwhile, are working to extinguish flare-ups.

High winds initially fanned the flames Wednesday, allowing the fire to rapidly spread and force evacuations in the Indian Lake Estates area.  County officials say they've found another home destroyed by fire there, bringing the total number to 12.

Giorgio Onorini’s cabin was lost to the fires. He was baffled by the fire’s erratic spread.

“It has been there for so many years. What can you say?” explained Onorini. “Every so often there is one that is safe. How? Why? Probably a better connection with the guy upstairs.”

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam confirmed Onorini’s confusion.

“Fire is a very unpredictable beast, and when [firefighters] say, ‘Get out,’ there’s a good reason for it. And that reason is abundantly clear when devastation is spread over several thousand acres,” Putnam said.

Thursday, the fire spread closer to the River Ranch hunting and camping grounds, allowing Indian Lakes residents to return home but prompting new evacuations of the campsites.  More than 100 campsites have now been destroyed by the fire, but a final total may never be known because there is no official record of sites there, officials say.

Assistant County Manager Gary Hester said getting to camps is still difficult because they are so isolated.

“We don’t have addresses to try and get there. Most of the time, we’re responding off GPS, so it makes it difficult getting in there to save life and property,” Hester explained.

A man who would only identify himself as Randy brought supplies for his buddy who just lost his camp in River Ranch, but refuses to leave. His buddy’s reason:

“General clean-up is what they’re doing. Helping their neighbors clean up stuff and everything like that,” Randy said.

Meanwhile, with dry air and low humidity, there is a higher threat that the fire will continue to flare up and spread.  County officials are asking resident to stay alert and watch out for emergency vehicles.

Fog mixed with smoke forced troopers to close some roads in the area this morning, a situation that will likely repeat early Saturday. 

"Motorists who plan to travel on State Road 60 between County Road 630 and State Road 441 (Yeehaw Junction); or along County Road 630 to Walk in Water Road, should be prepared to travel a different route," a county spokesperson warned.

EARLIER COVERAGE:

- Fire flares up around River Ranch
- Uninsured homeowners lose everything to fires
- Some returning evacuees find homes burned
- Residents evacuate as brush fire threatens homes

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