POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Mark Dearmin was trying to make it to River Ranch Hunt Club from St. Petersburg before a fire took over his cabin.
He was watching flames creep closer through security cameras on his property.
“I had three. The first two melted almost immediately,” he said.
Then Dearmin saw the back of his cabin catch fire and soon after, the video ended.
“I cried quite a bit. I called my daughter and told her I was turning around and coming back. She asked me why. I said there’s nothing left to save,” he said.
The Florida Forest Service was called to the 5,500-acre privately-owned hunting club at 2:30 Tuesday afternoon.
“Of course, anybody that was in danger of the fire, we made contact with them to try to get them out but they will leave on their own accord,” said Todd Chlanda, a wildfire mitigation specialist and public information officer for Florida Forest Service.
The investigation into the cause of the fire began Wednesday. No injuries were reported.
“It’s a hunting camp. They have campfires. They mow grass and right now conditions are conducive of a small fire becoming a large one because we are so dry,” said Chlanda.
The Florida Forest Service says 200 outbuildings were destroyed.
“We could see smoke from a far-off distance and when we pulled in we could see that the woods were on fire. But I think they did a really great job getting it put down and put away fast,” said Tony Retaskie, who is staying at a nearby RV resort.
As of Wednesday evening, the fire was 100% contained. The Florida Forest Service said 1,000 acres were burned.
To fight the fire, Florida Forest Service crews use plows to remove vegetation that acts as fuel.
“There’s still downed vegetation that goes all the way back to Hurricane Irma. That piles up in these locations so you introduce a wildfire to that and it just compounds the size and the intensity of that fire,” said Chlanda.
Chlanda said crews will be on site for several days until there is no evidence of visible smoke or hot spots.
In 2017, another large fire burned inside the River Ranch area.
With no substantial rain in the forecast, Chlanda warns about the impact of dry conditions.
“There are no burn bans in place right now but we ask that if you are going to be doing anything outside, that you have a water source handy. Have a cell phone in case a fire gets out of hand because it doesn’t take long for a small fire to become a devastating wildfire,” said Chlanda.