Leesburg-- Thirty to forty people had to flee Magistrate court in Lee County Tuesday morning when fire broke out behind the courtroom.
Just before 11:00, a welder cutting the lock on the back door of the Magistrate Court building sparked a small fire.
That door is just behind Judge Jim Thurman's bench, where a civil case was being heard. Baliffs smelled the smoke, found the fire and put it out with fire extinguishers.
The Magistrate Court building was evacuated, but the main courthouse next door was not. Some ceiling tiles and light fixtures were charred by the flames, and there was smoke damage in the courtroom. But court records kept in filing cabinets in that entryway were not damaged.
"Just mostly smoke. Had a lot of smoke in there, but no real fire damage," said Assistant Lee Co. Fire Chief Julian Tye.
The damage was estimated at between two and three thousand dollars. Judge Thurman resumed court at one this afternoon in another courtroom.
The key to that backdoor was lost several years ago, so they were replacing the lock. Now they'll have to get an entire new door.