LAKE WALES, Florida — A massive brushfire burning in eastern Polk County continues threatening homes as emergency crews extended their mandatory evacuation order overnight.
The now 600-acre fire was first called in around 4:30 yesterday afternoon in the Indian Lake Estates neighborhood southeast of Lake Wales.
Fire crews are assessing the damage this morning but say already a number of sheds and other structures were burned. At this time, there are no confirmed reports of any homes lost.
PHOTOS: Fire burning in Indian Lake Estates
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, speaking at a 10:00pm news briefing, called the incident a critical emergency.
“Our hearts break because we see homes surrounded by fire,” said Sheriff Judd after flying over the scene. “The fire is raging 100 to 150 feet in the air… It is a horrific event.”
Fire officials say progress has been made along front lines, but the fire is still active and far from fully contained. Meteorologists are calling for another day of red flag conditions with above-average temperatures and low humidity.
Investigators say it’s too soon to say what caused Friday’s fire but confirm they are already looking into the possibility of arson. Several other fires in the same neighborhood have also broken out in recent months. Anyone with information about how the fire started is asked to call 1-800-342-5869. Callers may be eligible for a reward up to $5,000 for information leading to an arrest.
The American Red Cross has opened a shelter at the First Presbyterian Lake Wales, 309 E Central Ave., Lake Wales, for evacuees.