Latest Polk County wildfire may be arson

INDIAN LAKE ESTATES, Fla. (WFLA) – The hunt is on for a possible arsonist who may have started a huge wildfire in Southeastern Polk County.

The Red Grange wildfire scorched around 600 acres in Indian Lake Estates.

It is the eighth suspicious fire in the last few weeks, and fire officials have not ruled out arson.

“It’s very frustrating that somebody could be setting these fires,” Ricky Britt of the Florida Forest Service said.

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

Britt told News Channel 8 that investigators with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Department of Agriculture and Bureau of Fire and Arson were all scouring the area for clues.

“The person or persons, or whatever is lighting these things, is doing so in very remote areas. It’s very difficult to try to go back and find that area,” Britt said.

The fire broke out Friday afternoon, and forced hundreds of people from their homes. The evacuation order in the area was lifted on Saturday afternoon.

“All we saw was fire, it was down about 300 yards down the road. It became a little frightening when you could see was all the flames shooting up in the air,” resident Stephen Tripodi told News Channel 8. “We didn’t expect that much to come back to.”

The charred grass surrounding his home showed just how close the flames got, but firefighters managed to save his home, along with all 800 homes in Indian Lake Estates.

The wildfire destroyed several structures, but none of them were residential buildings.

“They did a hell of a job,” Tripodi said.

About two dozen firefighters were still on scene Monday to keep the flames contained, patrolling and putting out hot spots. Winds picked up in the afternoon, making the job even more difficult.

County officials say the flames are now 75 percent contained.

The Florida Forest Service said they will stay on scene as long as they are needed.

“We’re going to have our folks out here as long as it takes, along with investigators. We will be out here and we’re going to be looking. We hope that this person or persons come to justice soon,” Britt said.

Anyone with information is asked to call law enforcement.  The reward for information leading to an arrest was increased to $10,000 on Monday.

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