Residents return to homes at Indian Lake Estates after evacuation order lifted

POLK COUNTY, Fla WFLA) — Polk County fire officials lifted the evacuation order for residents at Indian Lake Estates on Saturday.  The fire is now 60 percent contained.

Residents in Polk County were allowed to return home after the evacuation order was lifted at 4 pm.

News Channel 8’s Chip Osowski was at the scene of the 700-acre brush fire that burned through the area this weekend and said the flames came dangerously close to homes.

The fire, fueled by dry brush and brisk winds had called for an evacuation of the area, with fire officials urging residents to value their safety over their property and belongings.

Officials have yet to confirm whether the fire was intentionally set, but investigators have called the fire “suspicious.”

On Friday, hundreds of Polk County residents who evacuated Indian Lake Estates spent a restless night wondering if a raging brush fire that consumed at least 700 acres had also destroyed their homes.

“We’ve been sitting here since 4:30 last night on standby waiting to find out what’s going on,” Becca Rabe said.

Location of brush fire. Photo from Polk County Fire Rescue.

As many as 200 firefighters battled two fires using 100 pieces of heavy equipment. Even after all of that, an orange glow filled the sky until shortly before dawn. Firefighters fear that windy and dry conditions might bring even bigger problems on Saturday.

Chris Spicer spent the night in her car with her two anxious cats while her parents tried to sleep in a nearby vehicle at the entrance of Indian Lake Estates outside of Lake Wales. It wasn’t very restful.

“It’s very difficult for the cats,” Spicer said. “They were meowing all night, crying all night so there wasn’t much sleep going on.”

Dozens of evacuees huddled in their cars and trucks beyond the roadblock set up by the Florida Highway Patrol to keep residents from returning home and possibly into harm’s way.

Overnight, wind-driven flames leaping as high as 40 feet in the air came as close as five feet from homes, and destroyed the community’s large maintenance barn.

Sometime during the night, a friend sent Spicer photos of her scorched truck and the pile of ashes that is all that remains of her large tool shed, power mower and other equipment. She wondered how her home could survive after seeing that. And like many residents, she couldn’t stop thinking whether an arsonist is to blame now that authorities have labeled the Red Grange Fire as suspicious.

“Scared. I’m very worried I’m very scared that this is going to continue and I may not be as lucky next time,” she said.

Rabe wondered who might do such a thing to disrupt so many lives and put so many people — firefighters and residents alike — at serious risk.

Authorities say there have been a number of suspicious fires in this community since February. They believe what’s happened here time and again in recent weeks could be the work of a serial arsonist.

“We’re trying to figure out why what would possess somebody to feel the need to put other people through this kind of a situation over and over again,” Rabe said.

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