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Seasonal fire danger remains high

By Staff | May 8, 2009

The grass is brown, the rain gauges contain nothing but dust and the sky remains cloudless for the predictable future.
Southwest Florida offers the perfect environment for wildfires, and it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure none will be started by carelessness.
“Don’t throw a lit cigarette out the window,” reminds Connie Barron, spokesperson for the city of Cape Coral. “We strongly encourage our residents and visitors to notify the Fire Department any time they observe anyone discarding smoking material or starting a fire. We also encourage smokers to use the ashtray in the car and not throw cigarette butts out the window. This practice is against the law and very dangerous during the dry season. If everyone exercises caution during the dry season, we can avoid the damage and destruction caused by a brush fire.”
Residents are encouraged to do “outside housekeeping,” as Barron calls the following fire preventive measures:
n Keep the area around your home free from encroachment.
n Keep gutters clean of leaves and pine needles and the roof clear to lessen the combustibility factors.
n Trim trees and reduce “ladder fuels” against the house to keep ground fires from working their way up under the eaves of the house and entering the roof.
n Maintain your sprinkler system in working order to help the flow of water and prevent the fire from spreading, especially if you are near a wooded area that is susceptible to fire outbreaks.
n Maintain uncluttered access onto your property and around your house to allow access for brush trucks and firefighters to protect the structure or set up lines of defense.
n Maintain an awareness of people having bonfires or burning any debris outdoors; avoiding these activities can go a long way toward preventing brush fires.
Another precaution to take is when parking a car which has been running for a while and therefore has a hot engine. Parking it on grassy areas, such as on the side of the road, can be hazardous, especially if the grass is high and dried out, as it is in so many areas. This has been known to start fires.
During the dry season, the State of Florida typically bans open outdoor fires, and the City of Cape Coral discourages the practice as well, according to Barron.
“People must understand that it takes only a minor spark or ember carried by the wind to a point of ignition,” she said.
There remains at least another month of dry season.
“The rainy season starts in mid to late June,” according to Michael Weston, senior forester at the Caloosahatchee Forestry Center in Fort Myers for the Florida Division of Forestry.
Indeed, this region is a main target for wildfire. Already, firefighters have worked around the clock, and they need all the help residents can offer, and the name for that help is “preparation.”
“All residents in southwest Florida need to practice extreme caution any time they are using something that can produce a flame or spark,” Weston said recently in a prepared statement. “Only together can we work to make this fire season as safe as possible. Go ahead and finish any work to complete the 30 feet of defensible space around your house. Mow tall dried grass if possible and trim out dead plant material. On rural lands, make sure firelines are clean and recently disced. Fires, once started, can move extremely fast, leaving little time to prepare for the onslaught of flames.”
Weston emphasized: “Preparation must be done in advance.”
Scientists determine the state of dryness by measuring the soil moisture on a scale (KBDI reading) of zero (extremely wet condition) through 800 (near desert conditions). Presently, Lee County has a KBDI reading of 629, faring better than Collier and Hendry counties because, as Weston says: “Lee County has received a tiny bit more rain.”
Collier County is the driest county in the state, according to Weston, with a KBDI reading of 728, and Hendry is at 716.
“By any measure, this is extremely dry, and much more than past years with very active fire seasons,” Weston said. “So far in 2009, the Division of Forestry has responded to 125 fires that have burned 2,100 acres. Adding in numerous small wildfires that fire rescue districts and departments have responded to, and the large wildfire on federal lands surrounding Alligator Alley in Collier County, and the number of fires is closer to 250 or 300.
“This means that on average there have been two wildfires per day in our area since Jan. 1.”
The No. 1 cause of acres burned has been people burning landscape debris (yard trash) without consulting with their local fire rescue district or the Division of Forestry.
There is one source of fire for which humans are not responsible, and it is lightning, but still “prevention” can greatly limit the amount of damage that will result from that.
“Everyone needs to have defensible space or managed natural areas and forest land surrounding them to keep safe from wildfires,” Weston said.
To learn about the services the Division of Forestry offers, and for much more information, visit on line: