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Burn ban: As spring heats up, so does fire risk

By Staff | Apr 16, 2020

The days are getting longer and hotter, and with that comes the increased risk of a forest or brush fire.

Spring is always the worst time of the year for fire, with the dry winters helping to make the ground tinder dry, making the perfect fuel for a fire to start. The rainy season doesn’t really start until mid-May and people need to make smart decisions to avoid a fire, officials said.

The Florida Forest Service is doing its part by doing prescribed burns in areas where there is a lot of brush to clear and prescribes many of the remedies to prevent fire that counties and districts follow. However, residents also share the burden of preventing fires by following city and county requirements.

“Florida Forest Service monitors unincorporated areas and other places that need it. We have them as great partners,” said Andrea Schuch, Cape Coral Fire Department spokesperson. “Our area is training our firefighters and education for the public.”

The Florida Forest Service has kept track of the fires this season. Nearly 900 fires have burned nearly 19,000 acres of forest, the latter almost evenly split between state and federal woodlands.

Also, according to the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, much of Lee County is in drought stage, with an index at least at 600 to 650 on a scale of 0 to 800.

Education is the most important aspect of what the CCFD does, Schuch said. It is their job to tell people about the current burn ban in place in Lee County that prevents bonfires, fireworks or anything with an open flame. There are other things people can do, she said.

“People need to remember how dry the grass is, so avoid parking your car in high grassy areas, and even riding ATVs can spark and cause fires,” Schuch said. “For anyone who smokes, dispose of your butts in the ashtray and don’t flick them out the car window because they can catch the median and roadside on fire as it’s done in the past.”

With more people at home, Schuch also advises to keep the grass mowed at least 30 feet from the house and to get all the leaves out of the gutters to further keep you safe, especially if your home abuts undeveloped land.

Even though rainy season starts next month, it takes the ground about a month to begin to saturate, meaning people still need to take precautions, Schuch said.

Fire chiefs are saying the same thing. David Rice, North Fort Myers Fire District chief, said things have been fairly quiet this season so far, aside from a few smaller fires.

He said it’s up to residents to help firefighters by following guidelines so they don’t have to go out there.

“It’s the same we teach people every year. We don’t want kids to play with matches because it’s so dry out there and everything is flammable right now,” Rice said.

The district is always ready to aid other districts with their fires, sending over brush trucks even to other counties as it did recently with fires in Collier and Hendry and especially the car fire at the airport earlier this month, which started in a grassy area nearby.

At the Bayshore Fire District, firefighters are seeing increased work in putting out small fires.

“Our responses to brush fires are beginning to increase, and we are handling the calls as they come in. We are doing everything in our power to ensure protective actions from the coronavirus, but handling the brush fire as normal as possible,” Bayshore Fire Chief Larry Nisbet said in an e-mail.

Calls to the Florida Forest Service were not immediately returned.

To learn more about fire prevention, visit fdacs.gov/Divisions-Offices/Florida-Forest-Service.