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Fire destroys Mobile Home Depot Thursday

SEBRING – Massive black plumes of smoke billowed over U.S. 27 as flames tore through Mobile Home Depot at 4532 U.S. 27 on Thursday around 11:20 a.m. Smoke could be seen for miles in every direction from the source.

Seven employees and one customer were evacuated from the store. There were no injuries to civilians. One firefighter received a minor injury and was transported for medical treatment, according to fire officials.

All north and southbound lanes were shut down for about three hours as multiple crews from Sebring and Lake Placid battled the flames. The high westerly winds blew the smoke over the roads and created challenges for firefighters. The southbound lanes of U.S. 27 and one northbound lane opened just after 3 p.m.

The fire marshal on scene estimated the damage at half a million dollars. HCFR Chief Marc Bashoor said there was so much damage that the insurance company would have to determine the cause.

Bashoor said the fire started in the rear of the building where they believe the back roll up door was open. Bashoor estimated the winds at about 25 mph, pushing the fire into the store.

The metal commercial building was 110 feet by 63 feet in dimension and collapsed in on itself. A secondary building on the property, described as a type of shed, was not damaged.

“When a fire reaches 1,100 degrees, steel fails,” Bashoor said.

He said the fire was over 1,100 degrees.

Highlands County Road and Bridge Department brought in a Gradall to use its might to aid in fighting the blaze.

“We used the Gradall to pull the building apart,” Bashoor said. “With the metal roof on top of the fire, we couldn’t get water to it.”

The county’s Road and Bridge department also brought a truckload of sand to form a dike to capture the water runoff.

The store’s inventory consisted of items that would be found in mobile homes including wooden cabinets, fiberglass showers, etc. The business owner did have insurance.

Firefighters from Desoto City, West Sebring, Sun ‘N Lake, Lake Placid, Sun n Lakes, Highlands Park, Sebring Fire Station, two EMS units, and the Rehab unit were all on scene. The Rehab unit’s crew fed the firefighters and kept firefighters hydrated. Leisure Lakes was on standby and a Polk County unit was set up on standby at Highlands Lakes at the north end of the county.

District prepping grades 2-5 summer school

SEBRING — Parents are being surveyed by The School Board of Highlands County to determine their interest for summer school for students currently in grades 2 through 5.

Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Programs Anne Lindsay said the deadline for the survey is today, but thus far there are 164 students whose parents want to register for either the teacher-led program or flexible teacher-supported summer program.

Both programs are virtual/online programs.

The split is about 50/50 with half opting for the daily morning structured time with the teacher online and the other half utilizing iReady during their own time schedule.

By Monday, they will review the numbers from the parent survey to align instructional personnel to the students, Lindsay said.

The district had already advertised for its typical summer school so they already know which teachers are interested, she noted.

Lindsay said word has been out for a few weeks about it so she doesn’t expect many more parents to sign up their children at this point.

“If we get 200, that was kind of my goal was to have about 200 involved, so I think we will probably get that many,” she said.

The online summer school will run from June 1-19 with the district collecting the Chromebooks the week after the conclusion of summer school.

There will be no third-grade reading camps this year because nobody had to take the Florida Standards Assessments, Lindsay said.

In typical school years, third-grade students with low scores on the reading FSA are recommended for the summer reading camps.

Lindsay said third-graders can participate in virtual summer school.

“We will not be serving a separate migrant [summer] program because not all of our early childhood students have access to a laptop [computer],” she said. So the virtual summer school is being offered for grades two through five because they already have a Chromebook [provided by the district].

Highlands virus cases now at 103 with 43,210 statewide

The number of positive COVID-19 cases in Highlands County increased by three as of the Thursday morning update. Highlands now has a total of 103 confirmed positive cases. The total hospitalizations are 34 with 33 residents and 1 non-resident. The number of deaths remains at 8.

The first positive case reported in Highlands County was on March 21.

Statewide, a total of 43,210 cases have been confirmed with deaths reaching 1,875.

The total number of tests administered as of Thursday in Highlands County is 2,191 with 2,087 negative tests results of which 53 are non-Florida residents. One result has come back inconclusive and seven are waiting for results. The percent of positive cases is 4.7%.

At Wednesday’s COVID-19 testing event at the Highlands County health department, health officials were able to test over 140 people. Three more testing events are coming up:

- Tuesday, May 19 from 9-11 a.m. at the Lake Placid Camp and Conference Center, 2665 Placid View Drive in Lake Placid

- Thursday, May 21 from 5-7 p.m. at the Florida Department of Health Highlands County, 7205 S. George Blvd., in Sebring

- Tuesday, May 26 from 7-11 a.m. at Memorial Elementary School, 867 S. Memorial Drive, in Avon Park

Testing is free, and no insurance is required. Individuals wanting to be tested for COVID-19 must be 18 or older. Health officials will test as many people as they can at each event.

If you have questions, call 863-386-6040.

Of the 103 positive cases in Highlands County, 102 are residents and 1 non-resident. The cases include 51 male and 51 females, ranging from ages 0 to 85, with a median age of 55.

The total number of positive cases in Florida increased by 808 pushing the state to 43,210 confirmed cases; 1,172 of those are non-Florida residents. The total number of deaths increased by 48, bringing the total to 1,875. Those deaths occurred in Calhoun, Charlotte, Collier, Miami-Dade, Hendry, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, St. Johns and Suwanee counties.

FDOH is releasing details of ethnicity and race regarding the positive cases in each of the state’s 67 counties.

Highlands County’s cases by ethnicity are 32 Hispanic, 61 non-Hispanic and nine unknown/no data. The cases by race are 57 white, 24 black, 19 other and two unknown/no data.

Several residents commute to surrounding counties. Just to the north, in Polk County, where there is a higher population, the total reached 698 positive cases with 224 hospitalizations and 37 deaths. Polk has also administered 12,132 tests, of which 11,430 have come back with negative results.

Highlands County has more cases than DeSoto, Glades, Hardee and Okeechobee counties. Okeechobee has a total of 32 cases with no deaths; Hardee has 39 cases with no deaths; Glades has 9 cases with 1 death and DeSoto County has 58 positive cases with 6 deaths. There are many variables that could affect the numbers such as population and testing availability.

Miami-Dade continues to lead the state in positive cases with 14,742 confirmed and 535 deaths.

Nationally, the number of positive cases is 1,395,265 with 84,313 deaths and 243,430 recovered. Worldwide, the number of positive cases has increased to 4,387,438 with 298,392 deaths.

For more information on COVID-19, visit floridahealthcovid19.gov.

In Highlands County, call 863-402-6800 or text hccovid to 888777.