5,000 acres lost due to '630 Fire' in Polk County; number expected to rise

By Katie Jones, Stephanie Claytor, Trevor Pettiford, Team Coverage
Last Updated: Friday, February 17, 2017, 8:57 PM EST

Officials with Florida Forest Service said Friday afternoon that 5,000 acres have been damaged by this week's fires.

UPDATE: 8:52 p.m. The Florida Highway Patrol reports they have closed County Road 630 again due to heavy smoke between State Road 60 and Walk in Water Road.

 

 

Florida Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam said at a morning news conference that he expected the number to grow.

Putnam cited the .04 inches of rain the area received as a major help in fighting the fires.

"It could have been worse, especially here in Indian Lake Estates," he said.

Twelve residential structures have been destroyed.

The cause of the fire is still being determined. "It could have been as simple as a cigarette butt," Putnam said.

State Road 60 and County Road 630 have both been reopened.

Crews anticipate remaining at the scene through the weekend.

Families cope with damage, loss

Photo: Stephanie Claytor, staff

When Polk County officials called and told Richard Haas, 58, he had to leave his mobile home along County Road 630 Wednesday, he did. He said he never thought he’d return to it burned down to the ground.
 
“It’s devastating," said Haas, who walks with a cane and lives off of fixed disability income. Everything that you’ve worked for over the years is gone.”
 
He said his home survived three hurricanes. He’s one of the twelve families that are now homeless thanks to the brush fire.
 
Polk County said it did the best it could.
 
“Our hearts go out to those families who lost their homes," said Deputy County Manager Gary Hester. "We regret that. Our men and women worked hard as a team effort, members of the sheriff’s office, Florida Highway Patrol, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, all those people worked hard to save lives first and then their property.”

"Boom. It was so fast."

Ron Perkins described leaving the area in the back of a police car with minutes to spare. He had to leave with just the clothes on his back.

"Boom. It was so fast," he said.

"So devastating. You hear, 'bam, boom' — the propane tanks blowing up and people losing everything they had," he said. "I've seen burned down houses. I've seen buildings burned to the ground. I was a demolition contractor. I've never seen nothing like this. Nothing. It ate everything. Whatever was in its path, it ate it."

Perkins said the fire missed his camp by 100 yards. But many of his friends weren't as fortunate.

Pat and Richard Jones lost their mobile home and everything inside.

Damage from the Polk County brush fire

 

"It's all gone. It's all gone," Pat Jones said. "Everything was in there. We didn't even have time to get the paperwork. Our marriage license, titles."

"Twenty years of sweat. Gone," Richard said. "What couldn't melt, didn't melt. It's just 20 years wasted in a matter of a half-hour."

Richard Jones said the couple got out of their home with about 10 minutes to spare.

"I just ran in the house, loaded up the dogs, loaded up whatever I could take," he said. "I came in the bedroom and I got a garbage bag full of clothes, and we went on down to the hotel."

They returned the next morning to find their home gone.

The couple will be staying at their neighbor's home while they sort things out. They did not have home owner's insurance.

Previous updates:

6:10 a.m., Friday, Feb. 17

The brush fire continues to burn in Polk County and today the State's Commissioner of Agriculture is expected to tour the damage.

So far, 4,000 acres have burned so far Polk County Fire Rescue had seven personnel monitoring the situation overnight, while the Florida Forest Service had nine personnel.

Nine mobile homes and two single family homes have been destroyed as a result of this brush fire. Polk County Fire Rescue officials say people in the area will still see hot spots, adding that is normal right now.

Crews are asking people in the area to be aware of emergency vehicles. Several times emergency vehicles been delayed because of people slowing down to check out the damage.

It was another long and sleepless night for firefighters and residents here at Indian Lake Estates who have been working tirelessly to salvage what they can while trying to stop this fire from destroying any more of their property.

A recreational spread thats usually filled with fun has now taken over by a sense of heartbreak. Robert Wilson and his family are keeping a close eye on their camp as flames and hot spots continue to flare up.

"We just keep going around and see if we can help put some of it out. You start hearing the popcorn which is the gas tanks blowing up and you're trying to get away, but you stay out, be safe, do what you can to help," Robert Wilson explained.

Many thought the worst was over and now worry the massive fire that has already claimed thousands of acres and nearly a dozen homes will continue its devastation

"Many people lost their camps, their blood sweat and tears were poured into these camps and it's just very heartbreaking," said resident Michelle Nelson.

Many of these neighbors have  lost everything, a lifetime worth of valuables and memories burnt to ashes. While it may be hard to show a smile, these residents remain grateful that no one lost their lives.

Fire officials say a dog did die in the fire, but no one else was been hurt. There is still no word on what caused this fire.

10:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017

Polk Fire Rescue says the 630 Fire has burned 4,000 acres so far.

Affected areas

  • North and south of SR 60
  • South of SR 630
  • River Ranch Hunting Club
  • Indian Lake Estates

Message to the public

From Polk Fire Rescue:

"People in the area will see hotspots. This is normal. Also, residents need to stay alert and watch for emergency vehicles. Our crews’ response time have been delayed at times due to motorists slowing down to look at damage."

Fire crews say low winds Friday will help keep the first from spreading, but it may also lead to an increased chance of smoke spreading across State Road 60 and County Road 630.

Dispersion will be low, which will help prevent hot spots. But humidity is also low, which means there is a higher potential for flare-ups.

The fire has destroyed two single family homes and nine mobile homes. The fire has also killed one dog.

6 p.m. 

The map below, provided by Polk County Fire Rescue, shows a visual estimate of the burn areas and active fires.

  • Indian Lake Estates burn area from Wednesday is in Orange
  • The burn area north of State Road 60 is in yellow
  • The active fires are outlined in red

The active fires are south of State Road 60 and east of County Road 630.

"The northwest wind is pushing the fires to the southeast. It is the consensus of Polk County Fire Rescue and Florida Forest Service that Westgate River Ranch Resort is not a major concern for the evening," Polk Fire Rescue said in a Facebook post at 5:46 p.m.

There is an estimated 3.5-mile distance between any fire activity and the resort. 

Weather conditions will be re-evaluated in the morning to assess any potential for an eastward spread of the fire.


(Map provided by Polk County Fire Rescue)

5 p.m. UPDATE

Polk fire officials are advising people in hunting camps off State Road 60 and County Road 630 at the River Ranch Hunt Club to vacate and seek alternative shelter.

The fire has burned approximately 3,000 acres.

4 p.m. UPDATE

Fires have re-ignited in three different hotspots south of County Road 630 and north of State Road 60. One of the hotspots is near the River Ranch community. Residents there have reportedly been re-evacuated.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE

Forestry and fire officials are watching over about 2,000 acres after a fast-moving brush fire scorched parts of Polk County on Wednesday afternoon and into Thursday.  

Polk County Fire Rescue and the Florida Forest Service crews are on standby near the area in Frostproof after the fire damaged some properties near the Indian Lake Estates. There were no injuries.

At least one mobile home was destroyed near the subdivision while damage was limited to sheds and vehicles inside of Indian Lake Estates, fire officials said. 

The large fire broke out late Wednesday morning. High winds helped the flames sweep across the area quickly Wednesday, prompting evacuations in Indian Lake Estates and the closure of State Road 60 and County Road 630. 

The evacuations were lifted at 2:30 a.m. Thursday and the roadways were both reopened by 7 a.m. 

"There fire is contained, but not 100 percent out," Polk County Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Bobby Bohn said early Thursday. 

Bohn said crews spent the overnight hours making sure the 800 homes in the Indian Lakes Estates community were out of danger. 

Firefighters remain on scene to monitor the remaining flames. Meanwhile, the FFS is monitoring flames and smoke along the roadways. 

Polk County Emergency Management, Polk County Building Division and the American Red Cross are assessing damaged or destroyed properties. 

"We believe we did a good job yesterday and today," Bohn said. "Now we'll just go out and finish putting out the spot fires and other things."

Interactive map: Brush fire locations