State Road 44, Beachline back open after being closed due to brush fire

By Stephanie Bechara, Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, April 18, 2017, 9:30 AM EDT

State Road 44 near Royal Trails and Pine Lakes Road and Beachline Expressway are back open after being shut down on Tuesday due to a massive wildfire and now other brush fires have closed down area roads throughout Central Florida.

News 13's Traffic Anchor Ryan Harper and officials have tweeted out information about road closures Tuesday morning.

But now State Road 44 near Royal Trails and Pine Lakes Road and Beachline Expressway are open on Tuesday. Earlier in the day and on Monday. State Road 44 was shut down multiple times due to a massive wildfire several miles northeast of Eustis. Buses were canceled due to the smoke on the road, impacting the number of kids that showed up to school.

And it looks like school buses will be affected again Tuesday.

The Lake County Schools released this notice to parents on its website for Tuesday.

"If the road is closed (Editor's note: State Road 44 in the area of Royal Trails and Pine Lakes is closed), school buses will not be able to get through and — as was the case today — we will not be able to offer bus transportation to students in the area. The affected schools would remain the same: Seminole Springs Elementary, Umatilla Elementary, Umatilla Middle, Umatilla High, Eustis Middle and Eustis High," the school district stated. "Student absences related to the smoke and transportation issues will be excused, and any tests missed will be rescheduled."

Tonya John has three kids that attend Seminole Springs Elementary and while she took her kids to school Monday, she considered having them stay home due to the smoke.

"I was concerned, I was close to not bringing them," she said.

The 700-acre wildfire burning in the Royal Trails area of Lake County is not only an inconvenience for homeowners right next to the fire, but also for parents whose kids take the bus to school.

John says she could barely see her hand in front of her face early Monday morning, "So I almost didn't make it here to drop them off to school,” she said.

Because of the heavy smoke south of Astor to County Road 44A, school buses didn't run for Umatilla Elementary, Umatilla Middle, Eustis Middle and Seminole Springs Elementary schools, along with Umatilla and Eustis High schools.

The Lake County School District says it did affect attendance Monday. It is not known exactly how many of these absences are directly related to the smoky conditions, but roughly 500 students didn't report to the affected elementary and middle schools.

A tally for the high schools wasn't available due to testing.

"We are trying to make the best decisions we can with the students' safety in mind. We also are trusting parents to make the best decisions they can with student safety in mind," said Sherri Owens with the Lake County School District. “And any updates we have, we will make sure to send callout messages to the parents in the affected areas, and we are going to make the best of this situation."

On Monday night the school district said authorities may need to close State Road 44 Tuesday morning again. If that happens, school buses will likely be canceled again in that area.

John said she hopes the weather conditions become favorable for those crews out there fighting this blaze.

"You know, get it 100 percent contained. Because this school is in the middle of all these trees and these are not good conditions for wind and fire," John added.

Right now, any students who missed school because of State Road 44 closing will be marked as excused because of the fire. Any tests missed will also be rescheduled.

Lake County has issued a burn ban because of the dry weather conditions. The ban forbids outdoor burning, including yard waste and campfires or bon fires. 

Violating the burn ban carries a minimum fine of $150.