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Around the state

By Times staff and wire reports

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 7, 2001

Wind-whipped fires threaten several areas

PORT ST. JOHN -- Aided by strong winds, several fires scorched extremely dry Central Florida on Tuesday, including a blaze in Brevard County that grew to 1,300 acres and a 500-acre fire in Okeechobee County.

The Brevard fire grew from 150 acres and threatened homes, a jail and a juvenile detention center before firefighters were able to contain it late Tuesday.

Heavy smoke from the fire on the Okeechobee-Osceola County line forced the closure of a 15-mile stretch of U.S. 441 from State Road 68 in Okeechobee to Yeehaw Junction in Osceola.

The Okeechobee fire knocked down power poles, causing several homes to be without electricity, said state Division of Forestry spokeswoman Dottie Roth. No evacuations were ordered and no injuries were reported in the sparsely populated area.

Crews from the Department of Environmental Protection, local fire departments and the forestry division were joined by water-dropping helicopters and tanker planes in fighting the fire, which was nearly contained late Tuesday.

Before the Brevard fire was fully contained, it forced the closures of the Port St. John interchange off Interstate 95, the Port St. John Parkway and smaller roads. I-95 remained open.

Brevard Emergency Management services called more than 900 homes advising residents to prepare to leave, but no evacuations were ordered.

Buses lined up outside the Brevard County jail and the juvenile detention center in the event they would be evacuated as 23 firefighters, using three helicopters and eight tractors, battled the blaze.

There were no reports of injuries.

Meanwhile, a 340-acre fire in Vero Beach near the Highlands subdivision threatened homes late Tuesday, but no evacuations were ordered. No injuries were reported and the fire was 80 percent contained, Roth said.

A separate fire in Indian River County burned 3 acres, damaged two homes and forced the evacuation of an elementary school before it was extinguished.

Indian River County sheriff's spokesman Pete Kersey said no one was injured and the 500 students of Thompson Elementary School were allowed to return to their classrooms.

Boy waiting for school bus is killed in freak accident

ORLANDO -- A minivan that lurched out of control killed an 8-year-old boy Tuesday as he waited with friends to catch his bus ride to school.

The freak accident killed Jared Hayes, a second-grader at William Frangus Elementary School. The van's driver was a neighborhood mother who had just let out her children at the same bus stop.

The accident occurred as Jared and two other children were waiting for their school bus at the entrance of the Westover Hills subdivision, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

Amal Abdelhack, 43, who lives a few blocks away, arrived at the bus stop in her Dodge minivan and parked on Westchase Drive to let out her three children. She backed up a little and then forgot she had the minivan in reverse gear, a trooper said.

When Abdelhack tried to pull forward, she backed instead into Jared and another neighborhood child, Erik Anderson, 10.

The woman panicked and stomped on the accelerator instead of the brakes, sending Jared flying 25 feet into the middle of Balboa Drive. The van then continued in reverse another 250 feet, investigators said, until it crashed into the subdivision's brick wall.

Authorities said Jared suffered massive head injuries and was dead on arrival at a hospital. Erik was treated at the scene for minor injuries to his hand.

At the school, grief counselors went from classroom to classroom telling Jared's classmates about his death.

President Bush to promote his budget in Panhandle

President Bush is planning a visit to Florida's Panhandle next week to promote his budget and tax cut package. Bush is tentatively scheduled to visit Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City on Monday. Florida Republican Party Chairman Al Cardenas said he was advised of the trip but that he doesn't have details.

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