1. #1
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    Default Bartow Fla--Fire Destroys Office Building

    Fire Destroys Polk Office
    Traffic Engineering complex in Bartow sustains about $1 million in damage.

    By Iza Montalvo
    The Ledger

    BARTOW -- Lightning may have sparked a fire Wednesday that destroyed the Polk County Traffic Engineering and Operations Building, State Fire Marshal Capt. Mark Sauls said.

    The fire caused an estimated $1 million in damage to the complex on Sheffield Road, off Spirit Lake Road, which served as the traffic department's headquarters and operations center, Sauls said.

    Including two nearby mobile home offices, which the fire also destroyed, 43 people worked at the facility.

    No one was hurt in the blaze, said County Fire Department Capt. John Phillips.

    Nevertheless, the fire hit employees hard.

    "Everything is gone -- my diplomas, personal photos and files," said Ghassan Zebdaoui, a traffic engineer.

    "It is a big loss."

    As Zebdaoui walked near the scorched remains of his office Wednesday morning, fire investigators tried to remove parts of the building's dangling roof.

    For nearly 12 hours, 45 county firefighters had tried to get the fire under control as it spread from one building to the next, Phillips said.

    Winter Haven firefighters also helped fight the fire, which was not under control until about noon Wednesday.

    The fire apparently started at a mobile administration office and quickly spread through the main operations building, which also was used as a warehouse, Phillips said.

    The State Fire Marshal's Office likely won't know for sure what caused the fire for a week, he said.

    "At this point, everything is preliminary, and we are not ruling anything out," he said.

    Fire investigators collected data from a Global Positioning System that will be sent to a laboratory for a lightning strike analysis, Sauls said.

    The Polk County Sheriff's Office first responded after a burglar alarm was reported at 12:08 a.m., said Polk County Fire Department spokeswoman Heather Duckworth.

    The first firefighting crew arrived at 12:45 a.m.

    "We had to switch crews at 8 in the morning," Phillips said.

    Among other things, workers at the Traffic Engineering and Operations Building made traffic signs and conducted traffic studies.

    A forklift and other manufacturing material and equipment were lost in the fire, emergency workers said.

    Temporarily, the administration employees will be transferred to the County Administration Building in downtown Bartow. Operations technicians will continue working from a mobile home office on Sheffield Road, Zebdaoui said.

    During last year's hurricanes, several of the buildings sustained damage but were repaired, Deputy County Manager Jim Freeman said.

    The main building was very old and was not equipped with a sprinkler system, he said.

    Zebdaoui, hired shortly before the hurricanes, said his co-workers see him as a sign of bad luck.

    "First the hurricanes, and now this."

    Iza Montalvo can be reached at iza.montalvo@theledger.com or 863-4
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  2. #2
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    Default

    Lightning Deemed Cause of Fire

    A lightning strike ignited the fire that destroyed the Polk County Traffic Engineering and Operations Complex last week, the State Fire Marshal's Office confirmed Tuesday.

    Investigators ruled the May 18 fire at 3000 Sheffield Road off Spirit Lake Road accidental. Damage was estimated to be

    $1 million.

    At least 80 lightning strikes hit the area at the time of the fire, based on data collected with a Global Positioning Satellite used by fire investigators, according to Detective Kevin Shireman.

    Two trailer offices caught fire first, Shireman said. The fire spread quickly into the headquarters, which also served as a warehouse and operations center.

    Two vehicles, a forklift and manufacturing materials were lost during the blaze.

    County officials are working on various plans to begin the building reconstruction process.

    "Our goal is to have something completed before the end of the hurricane season," Paul Grace, director of the Traffic and Engineering Division, said.

    Transportation funds and insurance money will take care of the reconstruction costs, Grace said.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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