Residents return to homes after storms spark fires in Port St. Lucie; turnpike reopensJune 24th, 2011 by TCPalm.com
By Lamaur Stancil
ST. LUCIE COUNTY — All lanes of Florida’s Turnpike in St. Lucie County have reopened following Friday afternoon thunderstorms that sparked a large brush fire that led to evacuations and shut down the roadway.
The blaze forced state officials to close the turnpike between the Becker Road and Port St. Lucie Boulevard interchanges, officials said.
As of 7 p.m., about 110 acres on either side of the turnpike had burned and the blaze was 85 percent contained, said Melissa Yunas, state Divison of Forestry spokeswoman.
Some residents evacuated from the 50 homes that were threatened by the fire, St. Lucie County Fire District spokeswoman Catherine Chaney said. They returned early Friday evening.
A lightning strike in the Southbend Lakes area of Port St. Lucie started the brush fire near Luck Lane and Southeast Bella Road. Flames crept up to the backyards of at least six houses in the area, as winds blew embers onto neighboring homes’ roofs, residents said. A fence of one home in the 2900 block of Bella also was damaged, Chaney said.
John and Mary Ann Shepard saw the flames from their home in Southbend Lakes.
“We saw the fire from our backyard and came racing over to our daughter’s home,” Mary Ann Shepard said. “We knew our grandson was there, so we were able to warn him and told him to leave the home.”
John Shepard, a retired Pennington, N.J., firefighter, took a garden hose and began pouring water on the roof of his daughter’s home on Bella. Flames from the brush fire reached 50 feet into the air, consuming the nearby pine trees. All around, burning embers fell on the roof of the home and adjacent garage.
His grandson, John Pieler, was moving sports cars out of the garage when neighbors rushed over to help him. Others used ladders to climb on the roof to begin hosing it down.
St. Lucie County Fire Rescue crews began to arrive within 10 minutes with one fire truck pulling up the driveway. Neighbors began helping the firefighters pull the heavy fire hose from the truck to the backyard. One neighbor hefted the nozzle over his shoulder and took it to where Shepard was and began hosing the brush just feet away from the home.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.
Staff writers Christin Erazo, Keona Gardner and Isaac Cubillos contributed to this report.