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Sanibel Firewise Task Force offers tips heading into dry season

By Staff | Dec 11, 2018

Recent, catastrophic wildfires in the west are a reminder of the possible devastation that can occur due to wildfires.

For years, the Sanibel Firewise Task Force – made up of the city, Sanibel Fire and Rescue District, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge – has worked together to minimize the island’s risk of loss due to fire. Now is the onset of the dry season in Southwest Florida. The task force urges homeowners to take measures to ensure that their property is “firewise” so that it can protect the community from the dangers of wildfires.

Fire is a natural process in Florida. Historically, natural fires ignited by lightning occurred most often in the spring and summer. However, wildfires are possible during any month of the year. Because of this history of periodic fires, many of Florida’s natural ecosystems have adapted to and are dependent on fire. Many of the unique plant and animal species on Sanibel are dependent on and benefit from periodic burning. In the absence of fire, the unique ecosystems can be altered, and the wildlife that depends on them may be lost.

As people have moved into fire-dependent ecosystems, periodic, low-intensity, natural fires have been suppressed to protect public safety. Over the years, this exclusion of fire in the ecosystem has allowed the build-up of dead and dried vegetation through regular annual growth and decay cycles. This dead and dried vegetation is the fuel that feeds wildfires. With the buildup of fuels, catastrophic wildfires become more likely.

The Sanibel Firewise Task Force was established to address public safety and wildland fire issues. The top priorities of the task force are to conduct prescribed burns to reduce fuels on conservation lands and to work proactively with homeowners adjacent to conservation lands to mitigate potential risks associated with wildfires. Some homes are more at risk from the dangers of wildfire than others. The level of risk depends on several things, including the type of ecosystem adjacent to the home, level of development on nearby lands, density and type of landscaping vegetation adjacent to the home, ability of firefighters to get to and around the home, and building materials used to construct the home.

SANIBEL FIREWISE HAZARD CHECKLIST

The following checklist is designed to make homes safer in the event of a wildfire. Your home may be at increased risk of being damaged by wildfire if:

– The roof and gutters are covered or filled with dead branches, leaves or other flammable debris.

– Firewood, flammable building supplies or other combustibles, such as gasoline, are stored under or adjacent to your home.

– Combustible vegetation, especially tall grasses such as cordgrass, slash pine, palm trees and palmettos are located under or immediately adjacent to your home.

– Tree limbs overhang the roof of your home or power lines.

– There is a continuous line of flammable materials including mulch, tall grasses, pine trees or cabbage palms along the property leading up to your home.

The following can help to reduce the risk of wildfire damage:

– Keep your roof, gutters, and the yard surrounding your home free of combustible debris such as branches, leaves or other flammable debris.

– Store firewood and other flammable materials, such as gasoline, away from your home in fireproof containers.

– Remove tall grasses, palmettos and other fire-prone vegetation close your home or other structures and replace with native hardwoods and moisture-retaining landscaping. Some examples of more suitable fire-resistant vegetation include buttonwood, live oak and seagrape.

– Trim trees so that they do not overhang your roof or power lines.

– Regularly prune dead limbs and remove dead palm fronds on trees near your home.

– Use stone or gravel instead of mulch from your home to roof drip line, especially avoiding the use of pine straw as mulch in areas where fire danger is increased.

Note that in locations of increased wildfire risk, special exemptions from the city’s normal Vegetation Standards will be permitted by city staff on a case by case basis. For more information, contact the Natural Resources Department at 239-472-3700.

Those who would like help determining if their home is at risk during a wildfire can also contact the Natural Resources Department for a site inspection.