Cleaning up after fire scars North Port homes

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NORTH PORT, Fla. - Residents in one North Port neighborhood are relieved that an out of control brush fire on Sunday was stopped after it came dangerously close to dozens of homes.

A handful of homes have minor damage from the fire which broke out near Lamarque Elementary School, just off I-75 to the east of Sumter Boulevard on Sunday afternoon, causing the closure of I-75.

On Monday, crews were still at the scene, mopping up and warning about what's to come this spring.

With the woods still smoldering, Kimberly and Shellse Coe can't believe the damage to their neighborhood. "It's horrible, I am speechless…it is really sad to see."

“It's like a moonscape."

The fire caused damage to wooded lots and a few nearby homes. Out of 75 in the neighborhood, fire officials say 25 were in serious jeopardy.

Jason Maiolo knows just how close the fire was. "The trash can had burned up; a lot of the stucco is gone from the house."

With winds still blowing, crews are not taking any chances, says North Port Fire Marshal Michael Frantz. "We are out here mopping up, hitting the hot spots, trying to make sure everything stays under control."

Neighbors like the Coe's also hope they figure out how it started. "We are questioning that now. We all kind of want an answer."

Frantz confirms there have been a number of fires in the area in the past few years. "We have not been able to pinpoint a pattern. We had some started by juveniles, some started by cigarettes…really a variety of things. No indication there is an arsonist in the area or anything like that."

No matter how it started, Frantz says it's a good reminder for many to be prepared, saying even with a little rain the dry season is here.

Officials recommend residents clean gutters and trim back brush. Homes with at least 15 feet of space between them and the woods fare much better. "You've got some distance between where the firefighters can work and where the vegetation does not encroach on the property."

Residents there are thankful for everything emergency crews have been able to do. "They're all heroes."