News Update for 05/15/24

A large brush fire broke out late yesterday afternoon in the Leisure Lakes community in Lake Placid, on Bluebird Avenue and Henscratch Road. It affected close to 300 acres and caused mandatory evacuation orders for about 175 structures. Multiple outbuildings caught fire and were destroyed, as well as one vehicle and one utility trailer. Highlands County Fire Rescue and the Florida Forest Service had multiple units on scene, including a fixed wing aircraft and helicopter. The Bert J. Harris Jr. Agricultural Center was opened as an emergency shelter until the evacuation order was lifted late last night. Reports indicate the fire is now completely contained.

Station 14 responded to a brush fire in the area of North Ridgewood Drive and Helena street at 7:15AM this morning. As Brush 14, Engine 14, and Utility 14 arrived on scene, crews found an area that was inhabited by squatters actively burning. The crew had the area under control and the fire completely out within minutes.

The Avon Park City Council unexpectedly voted to remove City Manager Mark Schrader from his office at Monday night’s meeting despite annual evaluation meeting expectations. Schrader has served as City Manager since February of 2020. Ironically, Shrader was voted in the same way he was voted out- with a 3-2 vote. Deputy Mayor Jim Barnard raised the motion for termination in Monday’s meeting, with Councilwoman Berneice Taylor seconding the motion. Barnard stated that issues regarding Schrader’s salary demands led to the motion. City Clerk Christian Hardman has agreed to act as City Manager during the search for someone to fill the role.

The Community Redevelopment Agency could soon acquire the downtown Sebring former Barnett Bank/ Bank of America building. Plans for the building are to house the Sebring Hall of Fame Race Museum. On Monday, the CRA board voted 4-1 in favor of approving the contract to purchase the building with an addendum that extends the due diligence date to June 11th, contingent on the due diligence satisfactory to the CRA Board, and extending the closing date to June 28th. Concerns were brought up that the concept is rushed and that the acquisition cost would not cover the full cost of renovation and upkeep. The proposed acquisition price is $1.2 million. An inspection and appraisal have been ordered and the CRA will still need to go through the building disposition process.

Alcohol is suspected in a deadly crash in Marion County. Bryan Maclean Howard was arrested yesterday after his pickup truck hit a bus on SR 40 in Dunnellon. The bus was carrying 53 migrant farm workers, who were hired to work on a watermelon farm. Eight onboard the bus died at the scene, and 37 were hurt. FHP says the 41-year-old Howard is facing eight counts of DUI manslaughter.

And good news for students in Highlands County, Alan Jay Automotive Network and the Greater Sebring Chamber of Commerce held the 31st Annual Scholarship Awards and Recognition Banquet yesterday, honoring nine student candidates. 4 scholarships were awarded. The Candidates awarded the scholarships were Trent Bray- with a $5000 scholarship, Michelle Magri- with a $6000 scholarship, Jessa Cochlin- with a $7000 scholarship, and George Sebring, with an $8,000 scholarship.

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