Friday, May 24

Indian River County Sheriff’s Office investigating brush fire as arson

A spokesman for the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office said Monday the agency is investigating a brush fire, which displaced a few people experiencing homelessness on Sunday, as arson.

Officials said the fire burned about 12 acres, which county records show is vacant commercial land near 27th Avenue between Fifth Street Southwest and Ninth Street. The Indian River County Emergency Services Department said the brush fire forced officials to spend a “prolonged time” putting out the fire and allowed smoke to “linger in the area” in a news release.

A spokesman for the sheriff’s office said it has a person of interest in the case. He also said the state fire marshal’s office declined the case because there was no property damage.

Abby Klauss, who slept in a tent on the land, said she lost her tent and other personal belongings like clothes. She said she was struggling to fall asleep in her hotel room Sunday night.

“I couldn’t sleep last night,” Klauss said. “Every time I closed my eyes, I smell fire and it freaked me out because I thought this place was catching fire.”

She said she’s saving money to afford an apartment while working as a manager at Claire’s. She said she’s four months pregnant and believes the smoke from the fire is affecting her health.

“It hurts to breathe,” Klauss said. “Like, my eyes are burning still.”

Klauss said a nongovernmental organization hasn’t contacted her to help her recover from the fire. WPTV on Monday began calling various nonprofits operating in the Treasure Coast.

After those calls, the American Red Cross of Palm Beach and the Treasure Coast said it’s working with Indian River County to identify those affected by Sunday’s brush fire.

“The Red Cross is prepared to provide immediate assistance and recovery support once those impacted are identified,” executive director Eric Roby said.

A spokesman for Indian River County Fire Rescue said the Red Cross could provide people with new tents. He also said people at the scene told officials they didn’t need assistance.

“When they were approached and asked if they needed any assistance, they said they were OK and not in need of assistance,” the spokesman said.

Klauss said she didn’t speak to fire-rescue crews, while others, like Dave Lage, weren’t at the scene because of work commitments. They said firefighters could have talked with other people since about 12 people slept on the vacant lot.

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