USA — A sudden shift in the weather prompted an intentionally set fire to rage out of control last month near a 70-car pileup that killed five people on Interstate 4 in Polk County, state authorities said Tuesday.
Investigators from the Florida Department of Agriculture concluded that there was no negligence nor was any crime committed by the crew in charge of what was supposed to be a controlled burn set on Jan. 8.
The series of fatal accidents occurred a few hours before dawn the next day in fog that cut visibility to just feet in some areas. State firefighters and weather forecasters suspect smoke from the wildfire might have worsened visibility. However, the Florida Highway Patrol is still investigating and hasn’t said if smoke was to blame.
“There does not appear to be any evidence of criminal violation” by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission burn crew, the investigation report states.
The burn on 10 acres was properly authorized by state forestry authorities as a measure to clear away thick brush. Yet another report released Tuesday by the state Division of Forestry points out that Polk County on the day of the controlled fire was critically dry.
In addition, a weather station near the prescribed fire had not recorded rain for 17 days, according to the multi-agency report requested by the state Division of Forestry.
Earlier this week, the Florida Highway Patrol released more than 100 pages of reports detailing personal information of the drivers involved in the pileup, but they do not provide a sequence to the crash. Several westbound drivers in some of the less-serious crashes were cited for careless driving, the report said.
An FHP spokeswoman said the crash remains under investigation and it could be several months before a final report is complete.