Fire investigators have determined that one of the recent weekend brush fires in Lehigh Acres was caused by children, while the cause of the second fire remained undetermined as of March 10.
Two separate brush fires triggered neighborhood evacuations and burned hundreds of acres of land on March 5. Investigators have determined the cause of one fire, but the other remains under investigation.
One fire began near Calet Avenue South and Charwood Avenue. According to Fire Marshall Ken Bennett, the blaze started at about 1:30 p.m. and was controlled by approximately 6 p.m.
Investigators determined that the incident was caused by two juveniles.
"The Lee County Arson Task Force investigators went ahead and started an investigation immediately and were able to quickly determine that the fire had been started by two juveniles," he said.
Officials at the Lee County Sheriff's Office reported that no arrests had been made in relation to the brush fires as of March 10.
The second fire started at 42nd Street Southwest, near Sally Road. According to Bennett, the fire was reported at approximately 3 p.m. and was controlled by about 9:30 p.m.
"I was not able to determine a cause," he said of the second blaze.
"There are no natural causes from where we've determined the area of origin. It remains under investigation at the time," Bennett added. "We can't blame nature for it."
Lehigh Acres Fire Chief Robert Dilallo said the fires reached an estimated 400 to 450 acres total. The property damage includes the total loss of one large barn that contained a number of vehicles and seven homes that received mostly minor damage.
"Most of the damage to the houses was superficial. Siding and paint on the side, no major loss or damage to the actual houses, but seven of them were damaged," he said.
According to Dilallo, the department fought both fires for most of the day and into the night, combining the command structure even though there were multiple incidents. He said the firefighters saved an estimated 115 surrounding homes by stopping the blazes.
State Road 82 was shut down temporarily, and deputies from the Lee County Sheriff's Office warned residents in person and on social media about multiple roads that were affected by the fires.
Dilallo offered a few suggestions for homeowners looking to protect their property.
He suggested that residents regularly clear brush 30 feet to 50 feet away from around their home, if possible, and that they trim the trees on their property so that they do not hang over their home.
Dilallo also listed some steps residents can take to avoid causing a brush fire.
"If you're outside grilling, make sure you have a cover on it. Don't dump ashes in the side lot, don't drop cigarettes in the brush," he said. "(Avoid) pulling hot vehicles into high-grass, that always creates a problem."
"Be real careful about burning brush this time of year. Make sure you check with the department to make sure that there are no burn bans," Dilallo added. "Always call the local fire department and make sure you will be legal with what you're doing because it is very, very dry out right now."