'The smoke is so bad:' 911 calls released in most recent Lake County fires

No injuries reported

By Adrienne Cutway - Web Editor, Erik Sandoval - Reporter

LAKE COUNTY, Fla. - A recently released 911 call shows that witnesses tried to extinguish flames in an abandoned mobile home on Monday as first responders were on their way to investigate yet another suspicious fire in the Lake County area.

The mobile home fire on State Road 19 in Umatilla was just one of two reported on Monday around 4 p.m., with the other happening in a dumpster at a Save-A-Lot grocery store about 4 miles away.

A woman who was driving by the area called 911 and said she saw the vacant trailer ablaze.

"There's flames coming from the roof, the back bedroom area of the home," the woman said.

The 911 operator instructed her and her husband to keep a safe distance and warned against trying to put the fire out.

"There's people who live here who got a water hose, they said nobody is in it but the smoke is so bad," the woman said.

George Diaz told News 6 that he and the landlord tried to get a hose to the flames but it wouldn't reach. His stepdaughter, who was playing outside, was the first to notice.

"She said, 'There was a trailer on fire' and then I went and looked and by the tree and I saw it and that's when I went to the landlord and I told him his trailer was on fire. We ran over there to try to put it out," Diaz said.

Another woman called 911 expressing concern.

"It's an abandoned trailer but it's right next to mine," the caller said.

Lake County authorities said no one was injured in that fire or the one near Save-A-Lot. In that instance, it was an employee at the store who reported the flames.

"At the back of the store, the dumpster has caught on fire. So the lid's burning and there's smoke coming out of the top of the dumpster," the man said.

He said that he had taken trash out about 30 minutes prior and everything seemed normal but then a witness ran into the store to report the flames.

Lake County Fire Marshal Michael Vitta said the nine fires reported in the Umatilla area between Feb. 17 up until Monday are all being considered suspicious. 

"It's definitely an uneasy feeling. We have more fires than we would like in a short amount of time in a small geographical area," Vitta said.

Lt. John Herrell, from the Lake County Sheriff's Office, said investigators are still trying to determine if the two fires on Monday are connected to the seven others previously reported in the area.

"Without saying too much, there is a whole bunch of bits and pieces that's valuable and we are trying to put them together," Herrell said.

He also said the arson task force is investigating to see if another fire may be related.

News 6 was there soon after several cars were set on fire outside a medical facility in Eustis in November. 

"It would be reasonable for us to look at those in light of these recent ones, and we are," Herrell said.  "We’re still very mindful of that. We are still reviewing those 12 vehicles in the city of Eustis."

A $5,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to an arrest. Anyone with information about the fires is asked to call 877-NO-ARSON.

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