Firefighters monitor 90-acre brush fire in Okeechobee County, vacant homes, cars, sheds damaged

Posted at 10:34 PM, Feb 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-18 00:42:49-05

OKEECHOBEE COUNTY, Fla. -- The Florida Forest Service is investigating the cause of a 90-acre brush fire in Okeechobee County Friday near NE 304th Street.

The fire damaged cars and sheds, destroyed one vacant home and damaged a second vacant home.

Firefighters managed to save fifteen mobile homes, including Helen and Willis Chaney’s home.

“I was sitting in the Florida room and I happened to see smoke. It kept getting worse and worse,” Chaney said.

Her husband tried to protect his neighbors. “He went down and starting watering one of the neighbor’s houses down.”

Finally, Okeechobee County sheriff’s deputies evacuated homes while the fire spread. Helen grabbed some belongings and their dog.

They waited in their car outside the perimeter of the fire for several hours until they could go back home.

“Just scary, but everybody’s okay,” Helen said.

Okeechobee County Fire Deputy Chief Karl Holzcamp said the first 911 call came in around 4 p.m. when the fire was only an acre.

By the time fire crews arrived,10 minutes later, it was about 10-acres, ultimately spreading 90-acres.

“It was fortunate we were able to get crews here fast and get additional responses from other departments,” Holzcamp said.

St. Lucie and Osceola County firefighters assisted Okeechobee and Okeechobee County crews, along with the Florida Forest Service.

Friday’s fire wraps up a taxing week for firefighters.

“We’re making sure they stay healthy and ready to act,” Holzcamp said, knowing the fire risk is very high.

Melissa Yunas, Fire Mitigation Specialist for the Florida Forest Service, says many of the brush fires are accidentally caused by people.

She’s urging people to remain cautious in the coming dry months.
“The more fires we have, the more damage that could be happening,” Yunas said.

She’s asking people to avoid burning debris, be careful disposing cigarettes and use caution driving ATV’s over dry grassy areas.

She’s also asking people to protect their homes by watering their plants and lawns, and trimming trees and bushes away from their homes.

“We’ve been prepared. That’s why we’re asking the public to be prepared as well,” Yunas said.

Holzcamp says fire fighters have responded to 26 brush fires this year. That’s up from just 3 brush fires this time last year.