RIVER RANCH, Fla. — At least 1,000 acres burned after Tuesday's Right Gate fire and 200 camps were lost. Signs in the area warn the fire risk right now is extreme, while families process a devastating loss.
"It's just heartbreaking to see it. Just heartbreaking. I wish we could help everyone," Eric Hayes said.
He and his wife Rebecca reacted to the news of their neighbors in River Ranch from miles away in Fort Myers. For three years they've enjoyed the crisp Florida air surrounded by nature at the camp they continue to build.
"It's a relaxing place to go, it’s a home away from home. It’s heaven," Rebecca Huber said.
The couple was just here last week taking a break. Eric is a contractor working in the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Ian.
"It's a way to get away from the hustle and bustle in Fort Myers. There were a few small fires that had started, but they were easily contained. There wasn’t any issues like there were now," Hayes said.
The couple’s escape is now surrounded by soot, burned trees and homes.
"We estimate we’ve lost about 200 outbuildings in the fire with no injuries reported," officials with the Florida Forest Service said Wednesday afternoon.
Surveillance videos from camps trapped inside the flames show the embers rushing through the wind.
"They’re posting watching their camps burn and there’s really nothing you can do. It was just horrifying," Huber said.
Their kids lost their own camps, but for Eric and Rebecca things were different.
"We’re blessed in the fact that he put sand last week when we were doing the roof over," Huber said.
A Facebook post let them know they're blessed their camp is still standing.
"Sand don’t burn. I actually put it down because the ground wasn’t level and that’s what saved my camper," Hayes said.
A miracle in the middle of destruction, but with fires starting almost every week, so many questions still remain.
"If it’s arson, I’d like to see somebody caught. There’s too many people who have lost too much out there. To start a fire and put so many in danger that’s just insane," Hayes said.
The couple will travel to River Ranch tomorrow to assess the damage around them and help their neighbors start to rebuild. While they're thankful for the efforts from fire crews and staff in the area, they want to know everyone is safe.
Right now the Florida Forest Service says the cause of the fire is unknown and under investigation, but those that have lost their camps that they've worked years to build want to know why this continues to happen. The FFS is searching for any signs this could be arson and a $5,000 reward is being offered for any information that leads to an arrest.