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Medfly count near Orlando exceeds 50

State inspectors found more than 50 medflies in a Central Florida orange grove Wednesday and scrambled to eradicate the pest that could threaten Florida's $6-billion agriculture industry.

The new medfly discoveries in Lake County, north of Orlando, come as agriculture officials were hoping to wind down their eradication program in the Miami area with the release of millions of sterile flies. Just two weeks ago inspectors declared the Tampa area free of the pest.

Inspectors found a single, female Mediterranean fruit fly in the Lake County town of Umatilla on Monday and intensified the trapping program. They had found at least 50 more and were still counting by late Wednesday, said Liz Compton, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture.

"It is what we consider a serious infestation," Compton said. "We've already gotten verbal approval from the EPA to begin spraying."

Officials were planning to begin spraying malathion in affected areas of Lake and southern Marion counties Thursday. They were also planning a quarantine of the area prohibiting the removal of fruit, including backyard trees.

Compton said officials don't know where the new flies came from or whether they may have originated in another part of the state and hitched their way to Central Florida on cars.