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Boats, dock catch fire on Lake Jackson

SEBRING — Sebring firefighters got a call at 5:28 a.m. Wednesday about a fully-involved fire at the Sebring City Pier.

They arrived at the pier at 5:33 a.m. and didn’t see any fire there. They did see fire south of the pier at a residential dock/boat house on the lake.

“They got in the trucks to head to where it was,” said Sebring Fire Capt. Austin Maddox, who put the fire in the mid-1800 block on Lakeview Drive, behind a house that sits across from the First Presbyterian Church parking lot.

Fire crews arrived there at 5:39 a.m. Luckily they had a hydrant near the house, Maddox said. Crews used more than 500 feet of hose to reach a dock and three boats that were burning over the water, behind the house.

Maddox said they ran a 2.5-inch line from the truck to the dock, and then hooked it to a 1.75-inch line at the site.

Once they started extinguishing the fire, Maddox said, Lt. Ryan Feickert called in the department’s rescue boat to deploy booms in case of fuel and/or oil leakage.

Fire crews quickly put the fire out. No one was injured, Maddox said, and the site had no signs of fuel or other hazardous materials leaking into the lake.

However, the cause of the fire is under investigation by the Florida Division of the State Fire Marshal. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection also arrived on scene to investigate any hazardous materials concerns.

Investigations are still open, Maddox said. Estimated loss is undetermined at this time.

Thunder season: Lightning strikes home

SEBRING — In a demonstration of how electricity goes wherever it wants, lightning struck a tree on Lake Haven Boulevard, then followed phone and electric lines a short distance to a second home in the 1200 block of Garland Avenue, where it charred an exterior electric box.

According to Highlands County’s Public Safety Director Marc S. Bashoor, what at first was a call to Garland Avenue for a house fire, became, upon inspection by firefighters, to be two houses slightly damaged by the same bolt of lightning.

At the home on Lake Haven, lightning split a pine tree, drove down the tree into the ground and blew out a phone exchange box in the back yard. It then traveled to a phone box on the side of the house.

“It blew the phone box off the side of the house on Lake Haven, but the house still had electricity,” Bashoor said.

The lightning kept going, riding phone and electric lines to the Garland Avenue house and blew out an electric box on the side of that house.

There were no injuries.

Matt Burnside was watching TV on Garland Street when he heard the lightning hit the house next door.

“It was a big boom!” Burnside said as he stood in his yard watching firefighters examine the charred electric box on the side of his neighbor’s house. No one was home at the Garland home.

Bashoor was on scene as firefighters inspected the interior of the Garland Avenue house for damage and smoke.

It’s not uncommon to get calls from homeowners who smell smoke after lightning hits.

“It’s a pretty regular thing for us to get lightning strikes during the rainy season,” Bashoor said. “It will hit everything that attracts it, including homes with people in it. It will seek the tallest thing.”

Units from West Sebring Station 10; George Boulevard Station 19; Sun ‘N Lakes Station 7; Medic units 10 and 19, and Battalion 1 responded to the incident.

Duke Energy and Highlands County Sheriff’s deputies also were on hand, Bashoor said.

Education board approves new school standards

TALLAHASSEE — During an at-times heated meeting on Wednesday, the State Board of Education adopted new curriculum standards for civics, government and Holocaust education, along with updates to other subject areas.

The revised civic education standards will, in part, require public school students to “study primary source documents to understand the philosophical underpinnings of the American Republic and the root cause of American exceptionalism.”

In an outline of the standards on its website, the state Department of Education said the guidelines for instruction will prioritize teaching students “a sense of civic pride” and how to “participate regularly in all levels of government.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis appeared at the board’s Wednesday meeting to tout the updated standards.

“Whatever pathway you choose, you have to be able to discharge the duties of being a citizen. So this civics education is universally applicable, regardless of what field you go into, regardless of what you do in your life once you leave Florida’s education system,” DeSantis told the board and a sizable crowd gathered at the St. Petersburg College Seminole campus in Pinellas County.

DeSantis also threw his support being the new Holocaust education standards.

“We want to make sure our students understand the evils of the Holocaust. You see people throughout the world try to diminish or even reject that the Holocaust even happened,” the governor said Wednesday.

The board also approved alternate standards in math and English-language arts for students with “the most significant cognitive disabilities,” as well as minor “technical” revisions to English-language arts instruction.

As a new addition to curriculum for Florida students, the board also signed off on character education and substance use and abuse instruction. Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis, who has made mental-health initiatives a priority, was on hand to endorse the addition to public school instruction.

“These are foundational skills that really pave the way not only to help craft good citizens in society, but these skills lay the groundwork to empower our students to navigate through life’s hardships,” she said, adding that threats to emotional well-being go “hand-in-hand” with substance abuse.

More than 20 people spoke during a public comment period about the proposed standards, voicing a mix of support and criticism of the changes.

Stephanie Meyer, a social studies teacher at a private school in Pinellas County, commended the board for considering the new standards.

“The revised civics standards are evidence-based, historically factual and will teach our children our shared American values. Our children are victors, not victims. Their best interests should always come before the political agendas of those who seek to undermine this great nation,” Meyer said.

Marina Welch, who said she represented the organization Women’s March Florida, contended that the standards are part of recent actions by the state to remove critical race theory from the classroom. Critical race theory is based on the premise that racism is embedded within American society and institutions.

“The exclusion of civics courses including CRT (critical race theory) will, by definition, limit information. Our state’s most precious asset, our children, should be educated to arrive at and make informed decisions,” Welch argued.

DeSantis last month backed a vote by the state education board to place strict guidelines on the way history is taught in public schools, and has been a vocal proponent of blocking critical race theory from all levels of education.

With the next academic year set to begin in a matter of weeks, many in the Pinellas County crowd were riled by what wasn’t up for discussion on Wednesday.

“We’ve had a lot of comment cards regarding masks, vaccinations, and CRT. We do not have those items on the agenda today, therefore we will not be speaking on them,” board chairman Andy Tuck said at the beginning of the meeting.

Tuck’s comments were met with resounding boos from the crowd, and several audience members were cut off from speaking when they went “off topic” while speaking on agenda items.

Hurricane forecast revised

SEBRING — Hurricane Elsa was a wake-up call for those unprepared for the inevitable storms. On the heels of Elsa, Colorado State University updated its hurricane forecast for the third time on July 8, and not for the better.

Hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30.

The university is now forecasting a continued above-average hurricane season with 20 named storms. In comparison, CSU shows an average of 14.4 storms from 1991-2020. The count includes the storms that have already made their appearance in the Atlantic Ocean.

Of the 20 storms, nine are predicted to be hurricanes with four of those becoming major hurricanes.

They added two more named storms from the last update on June 3. The June 3 forecast showed 18 storms, which included Ana, which formed before the season’s official start.

The updated forecast by Philip J. Klotzbach, Michael M. Bell and Jhordanne Jones stated they anticipate an “an above-normal probability” that major hurricanes could make landfall along the country’s coastline.

The report cited sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean as “near” or “slightly above normal.” There is also no El Nino, which helps to subdue tropical development. The update also indicates the formation of Hurricane Elsa typically portends an active season.

Anyone who lived in Highlands County during Hurricane Irma in 2017 knows that it doesn’t matter what the forecasts say; it only takes one storm to have life-changing effects. The best defense is a good offense and in hurricane season, that means being prepared.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a considerable amount of preparedness information, including COVID-19 preparations on its website at weather.gov. Also, ready.gov has printable materials on preparing for a storm for businesses, pets owners and a hurricane kit for families.