Lehigh brush fires contained, but continue to burn in ‘perfect storm’

LEHIGH ACRES, Fla. The flames were far off at first. Then they were next to Joan Resto’s home.

Resto was in the kitchen of her 42nd Street Southwest home Sunday evening when her dogs started barking.

She looked outside a window and initially saw smoke and fire embers.

The flames eventually melted the siding on the left side and back of her home.

Power lines connected to her home were also melted. The fence surrounding her home was destroyed.

“Shocking. It was like I couldn’t believe it was happening,” she said Monday. “I mean I’ve seen it on TV but I didn’t expect it to happen to our neighborhood and so quickly, it just spread.”

Two brush fires that scorched approximately 400 acres of land on Sunday, forcing evacuations and damaging several homes, are contained but were not under control as of Monday afternoon.

“They’re still within their boundaries,” said Susan Lindenmuth, Estero Fire Rescue spokesperson. “Crews at this point are doing mop up.”

Seven homes were damaged, but the extent, as well as the cause of the fires, were not immediately known. No injuries were reported as of Monday.

One fire burned near the intersection of Grant Boulevard and Charwood Avenue South, where flames broke out around 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Lehigh Acres Fire Rescue said. That blaze damaged one home but was 100 percent contained shortly before 8 p.m. Sunday, the Florida Forest Service said.

Another began near 3213 43rd St. SW and spread to the south side of State Road 82. That one damaged six homes and was 85 percent contained as of 8 p.m. Sunday, the Forest Service said.

Residents were evacuated to a temporary shelter at Veterans Community Park Recreation Center. They were able to return to their homes at around 10 p.m. Sunday.

Angel Caso, who was evacuated, saw flames approach his backyard.

“At that moment, you don’t really know whats going on and you’re more scared of the situation than anything else. Possessions are possessions, you know,” he said. “The neighborhood, the three or four homes that are next to each other. We all huddled together, got on our knees and asked the lord to help us and he did. Literally the fire stopped right at my property.”

Caso’s home was one of more than 100 that were saved by firefighters:

Other than winds that can reach 30 mph, firefighters, many of whom have responded from multiple counties, are also dealing with spectators, Lindenmuth said.

“It’s very exciting, it’s very frightening and people want to get out there and see what’s going on,” she said. “We really discourage people from doing that. Let us have the space that we need.”

Brush fires are common during dry season in Florida, which lasts through the winter months. While officials often battle low humidity, low rainfall and high winds, Lindenmuth said Sunday’s fires were different.

“This is the perfect storm when we’ve had all three of those things,” she said. “And that’s what made this particular incident, and the one down in Collier County, made it very very challenging because it is very difficult to fight something like that when you’re fighting mother nature along with it.”

Here’s a close up view of the damage sustained to Resto’s home:

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