Boys accused of setting brush fires


Published: Monday, May 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 30, 2006 at 11:33 p.m.
LEHIGH ACRES - Two boys were charged Sunday with setting weekend brush fires that have destroyed or damaged dozens of homes and burned more than 1,500 acres in southwest Florida, authorities said.
The boys, ages 10 and 12, were charged as juveniles with intentional and reckless burning of land, Lee County Sheriff's spokesman Larry King said.
Both boys were being held at the county's juvenile detention center, and investigators also were seeking a third youth, sheriff's Lt. Robert Forrest said.
No other information about the arrests was released.
Firefighters had the major blaze 75 percent contained Sunday afternoon but worried that wind and high temperatures could stoke hot spots, authorities said.
No one was injured. At least nine homes and four sheds were destroyed, and an unknown number of other homes suffered some type of damage, said Gerry LaCavera, wildfire mitigation specialist with the Florida Division of Forestry.
Another 30 vehicles, from all-terrain vehicles to cars and boats, also were lost.
Rubin Ortiz Jr., 35, of Gateway told the News-Press that he raced to his parents' Lehigh Acres home after seeing smoke rising from the area. His parents were not at home, but their house was engulfed in flames.
"I stood here for an hour and watched the house burn," Ortiz said. "It was like raining fire. It was so hot. I didn't know whether to cry or scream or get mad."
Four smaller fires were contained Saturday.
Some residents who own construction equipment such as bulldozers were helping to extinguish the flames with dirt, LaCavera said.
The fires also destroyed two fire trucks, and killed several pets, Forrest said. "I'm aware we lost one goat and a couple dogs," he said.
Residents were allowed back in the area Sunday afternoon, Forrest said. About 60 people evacuated their homes and spent Saturday night at a recreation center.
About 1,000 customers lacked power in the county Sunday, according to the LCEC energy company. Deputies were stationed near the homes to protect residents' safety overnight, LaCavera said.
Since Jan. 1, more than 20,000 acres have burned in Florida from over 1,500 wildfires, according to the Division of Forestry.
A brush fire that consumed about 5,300 acres over three days in northern Brevard County was intentionally set, officials said Saturday. The blaze forced authorities to close Interstate 95 twice last week.

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