SEBRING - A Friday evening fire, which shut down U.S. 27 North for three hours, has destroyed the Camper Corral building. The preliminary cause of the fire is lightning strike, said Scott Mann, fire chief of West Sebring Volunteer Fire Department. The state fire marshal's office is conducting an investigation this weekend and Monday and will come out with a final report, he added. All 10 volunteer fire departments from Avon Park to Venus, along with city fire departments, responded to the blaze, as firefighters worked with "terrible lightning popping" around them and a steady downpour of rain, Mann said. "It took us a little bit to get the ladder" up because of the lightning, he added.
While the fire burned to the ground the office building, where parts were also stored, the Recreational Vehicles camped on the property were saved and did not suffer any fire damage, Mann said. "We were able to keep the fire contained to the building of origin," he added. Toni Cozier, whose family owns Camper Corral, was watching the charred remains of the business Saturday, which she said has been in Highlands County for 32 years. "I grew up here," she added. Her father, Robert, is the service manager while her grandparents own the business, she said. She said her father has talked about rebuilding the business but she doesn't know for sure. Some of the parked RVs were being repaired, others were on consignment to be sold and some other trailers were being stored for the owners, she explained. Saturday morning, some of the people whose RVs were being parked on the property came by to check. Mann said firefighters were on the scene from 6:30 p.m. Friday to 1:30 a.m. Saturday. Central dispatch received many 911 calls about the blaze, he said, and multiple agencies responded to help. There were four tankers, seven engine trucks, one mobile air unit and 30 to 40 firefighters, Mann said. The fire shut down for three hours a stretch of U.S. 27 North at Davis Citrus Road, where Camper Corral is located, to accommodate a water hose that had to be connected to a fire hydrant on the frontage road, on the opposite side of the highway. The road reopened around 10 p.m. Friday. On Friday, lightning and thunderstorms were not the one thing people noticed. Richard Rude with the National Weather Service in Ruskin says there was one report of a funnel cloud three miles southwest of Avon Park at 5:43 p.m. He said the weather service does not keep detailed information on the number of lightning strikes.