Residents urged to be prepared for wildfire season
Emergency management officials are reminding residents to be ready for wildfires this year, despite the recent, wetter than normal winter season.
Wildfire Awareness Week runs April 11-17.
“Due to the recent El Nino phenomenon, Florida experienced wetter than normal winter months, which will help to diminish the threat of a severe wildfire season,” David Halstead, interim director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said in a prepared statement.
“However, Florida is a wildfire-prone state, with much of the native ecosystems dependent on natural wildfires,” he continued. “Therefore, residents should take the necessary precautions to protect lives and property as we near the height of wildfire season.”
According to Operations Division Chief Tom Tomich of the Cape Coral Fire Department, the city has had an unusual number of wet cold fronts so far.
Wildfire season runs from March through June with the driest peak in May.
“This year we’ve had almost every cold front come through with rain and they’ve come through in rapid order,” he said. “This is not real typical of a winter in Florida. We usually have pretty dry dew points at this time of the year.”
Tomich explained Tuesday that on a scale of 0 to 800, with 800 indicating the driest conditions possible, the city is usually in the range of 500 to 600 during this time of the year. Currently, the Cape is sitting in the 200 range.
Because of the wetter conditions, the department has not responded to as many wildfires or grass fires as it normally does in “actual forested” areas, he said. No homes have been damaged by wildfire activity so far this season.
“We really have not had them,” Tomich said. “I would say the number is under a dozen for the whole season.”
Fire units also respond when a power line falls. During windy weather, the wires can drop from electric poles and spark fires. Tomich said firefighters have responded to about a half dozen of those types of fires as of Tuesday.
“It causes a brush fire to start below the pole,” he said.
According to Tomich, the wetter than normal conditions do not mean that residents should not prepare for wildfire season. He said the onset of the summer rain pattern toward the end of season tends to bring lightning and thunderstorms, which can spark fires.
The city also has dry vegetation that was frost burned during the prolonged periods of cold weather and several frosts, which can serve as fuel for fires.
“There is a potential for a very decent fuel load out in the wild land right now,” Tomich said.
To prepare for wildfire season, residents are urged to have at least 30 feet of clear ground surrounding their home. Since pine needles burn very easily, a home’s roof and gutters should be cleared of them. Trees and bushes should be trimmed to keep a ground fire from jumping and possibly reaching a home.
“It creates a ladder type of effect where the fire starts on the ground,” he said. “Trim hedges and vegetation so it doesn’t give flames an opportunity to jump from the shrub onto the structure.”
Also, keep roads to a home clear of debris so fire units have easy access.
“Notify the 911 system if they see smoke near an area where there’s dense vegetation,” Tomich added. “Early notification is the key.”