Fire-resistant building rules advised

State wants to reduce threat to life, homes

By DON RUANE, druane@news-press.com



The number of brush fires is down by half in Southwest Florida this year, but that isn’t stopping the Florida Division of Forestry from asking Lee County to adopt building requirements to reduce the threat to life and property.

The goal is to make it safer for property owners who want to build where their home easily could be threatened or destroyed by one of the 153 brush fires on average that scorch Lee County each year, said Forestry Division spokesman Gerry LaCavera.

Thanks to spring rains that have kept vegetation moist, only 57 fires have been recorded since Jan. 1 in the district. They’ve burned 1,063 acres.

The brush fire season runs from Dec. 1 to June 1.

The high-risk areas in Lee County include all of Lehigh Acres, parts of northern Cape Coral and areas along Interstate 75 in Estero and Bonita Springs, according to a Forest Service map. These areas match up with Lee County maps showing where residential development is expected to occur, LaCavera said.

Property owners might face new requirements for setbacks, the use of combustible materials and landscaping if the Division of Forestry’s proposals become part of Lee’s building codes and development policies.

“There is nothing in Lee County’s comprehensive plan in regard to wildfire,” LaCavera said.

The county needs to talk about the situation and how to address it, he said.

Lee County is the first county asked to make significant changes to its plans and code, LaCavera said.

County Commissioner John Albion, whose district includes most of that area in the risk zone identified by the state, agreed that more discussion of the Forestry Division’s request would be useful.

“I want to work to reduce some of these problems we have out east,” Albion said. “Let’s do it before we have to put out these fires.”

Lee County is doing a review of its comprehensive plan now, so the Forestry Division request is timely, said Paul O’Connor, Lee County’s community development director. Any changes will take time to make, he said.

The comprehensive plan review will end in February. Amending it will take another 18 months, O’Connor said.

Meanwhile, the Forestry Division’s advice to property owners building in the risk zones is to use fire-resistant building materials, keep at least 30 feet of cleared land between homes and brush, and to make sure firefighters have enough room to move around the home with their equipment.

The proposal is based on standards promoted by the Firewise Communities program. The Firewise program is part of the Wildland/Urban Interface Working Team of the National Wildfire Coordination Group, a consortium of wildland fire agencies.