1. #1
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    Exclamation Florida Wildfire Season Heating Up

    Life in the danger zone

    Officials hope to thwart 2001 repeat

    When Charlotte County Fire Chief Dennis DiDio thinks of brush fires, he thinks of the plumes of smoke that rose above Charlotte County and North Port on April 18, 2001.

    Six individual brush fires became one, eventually burning more than 2,400 acres in Charlotte alone. DiDio still remembers listening helplessly to his firefighters calling for more equipment, since the department's resources were already committed to fight the blaze that engulfed properties bordered by Edgewater Drive, Wintergarden Avenue, and Collingswood and Flamingo boulevards.

    "All I could say is, 'Do the best you can,'" DiDio recalled. According to Sun reports at the time, seven homes were lost and the county had to order an evacuation of the area.

    At the same time, North Port was facing two days of fires when an intended 600-acre prescribed burn at the Carlton Reserve raced out of control. Over a two-day period, more than 6,000 acres were scorched.

    Locally, DiDio said, the brush fire season starts this month and lasts until August, well into the summer rainy season. Already this year, Charlotte County firefighters put out a 50- to 60-acre blaze near the Scarecrow Farms subdivision, south of Punta Gorda. Since October, North Port firefighters have seen 175 to 200 acres burned by brush fires.

    "This season has been sporadic," DiDio said Friday, but he also said the fire conditions around the state are showing signs of drying out. "It's still moist."

    The Florida Division of Forestry gauges the threat of brush fires on the zero to 800 scale of the Keetch-Byram Drought Index. Friday, the index showed Charlotte and Sarasota counties in the 400 to 500 range, which indicates the midpoint between extremely wet and extremely dry conditions.

    Under normal conditions, DiDio said he normally sends two firetrucks out to face a brush fire, but as conditions dry out, he'll boost that number, sending three trucks to fight a blaze. DiDio, like the chiefs from other local fire departments, said they depend on the Division of Forestry and its interlocal agreements during the brush fire season.


    Playing it safe

    Mike Bonakoske, fire chief for the Englewood Area Fire Control District, can recall the mid-1990s blaze that closed South River Road, swallowed acreage in Taylor Ranch and the Myakka State Forest, and engulfed several homes adjacent to Englewood Farm Acres.

    Since the Division of Forestry started control burns in Myakka State Park, Bonakoske said, the threat from a River Road fire has been greatly diminished.

    "The big thing is managing the land," he said.

    Bonakoske is also a big believer in the state's "Firewise" tips to homeowners.

    Charlotte, North Port and Englewood firefighters agreed that the area faces the same danger -- where homes are interspersed among large stretches of undeveloped properties.

    "You give 30 feet and I'll have a good chance to save your home," Bonakoske said, citing the Firewise tip to clear a 30-foot defensible perimeter around homes.

    Other Firewise tips for home and other property owners are:

    * Keep roofs and gutters clean, removing pine needles, leaves and other organic materials.

    * Eliminate all combustible materials, such as wood, propane tanks, boats, automobiles and other vehicles from under or near homes or other structures.

    * Trim trees, vines and other vegetation away from homes and other structures.

    * Use gravel for mulch or keep combustible mulch moist.

    * Keep highly flammable plants, such as palmettos, away from houses or other structures.

    When facing the immediate threat from a brush fire, evacuate when requested and follow any directions by firefighters, police or other emergency personnel.

    If and when time allows, the experts say to:

    * Close all doors and windows.

    * Close heavy drapes, blinds or hurricane shutters.

    * Remove lightweight curtains.

    * Move flammable furniture away from windows and glass doors. DiDio warned that the heat radiated from an intense fire can set curtains and other materials on fire, even if a window or glass door is shut.

    * Back automobiles into garages and disconnect any automatic garage openers.

    * Turn off gas and fuel supplies at their connections.

    * Connect a garden hose with a nozzle to an outside tap.

    You can e-mail Steve Reilly at reilly@sun-herald.com


    By STEVE REILLY

    Staff Writer
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  2. #2
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    Post Putnam County Asks for Burning Ban

    Official urges burn ban

    by Brad Buck
    The Palatka Daily News


    A state forestry division supervisor is urging Putnam County residents not to do any outdoor burning during this dry season.
    The drought index for Putnam on Friday was 545, according to the forestry division's Web site. That puts the county in very dry conditions, forestry officials said.
    "I'd like to have a voluntary burn ban," said Bill Anderson, supervisor at the Welaka office of the forestry division.
    He said people should avoid outdoor burning, even though no mandatory burn ban is in effect for Putnam.
    With conditions so dry, the only reason more fires have not flared up is because of the low winds, he said.
    "If we get winds of more than 15 mph, all heck will break loose," Anderson said.
    Meanwhile, forestry officials continue to monitor a bog fire by Bundy Lake off State Road 100 near County Road 315 in northwest Putnam that has been burning or rekindling since May 7.
    The wildfire danger is increasing every day without rain in northeast Florida, state forestry officials said in a news release Friday.

    April and May are typically the driest months of the year and combined with the recent high temperatures, vegetation is dry and ready to burn, forestry officials said.
    "During this spring dry spell, wildfires can easily start from any number of outdoor activities, so everyone is urged to use extra precautions," said Annaleasa Winter, wildfire mitigation specialist for the forestry division.
    Florida has had 1,040 wildfires burning 9,378 acres since Jan. 1, the forestry division said.
    The Waccasassa District, including Gilchrist, Alachua, Putnam, Levy and Marion counties, has an average drought index of 512. The district has had 135 wildfires burning 749 acres so far this year and is currently monitoring two fires -- one in Putnam and one in Marion County.
    The Jacksonville District, including Clay, Duval and Nassau counties, has had 29 wildfires burning 110 acres so far this year. Currently, the district has an average drought index of 327 out of an 800 maximum, with Clay County being the highest at 472. Jacksonville is monitoring two fires, one in Middleburg and one by the Clay and Putnam County line.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  3. #3
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    Exclamation Florida Wildfires---a 12 Month Concern

    Wildfires are a year-long area worry

    Fire is a magnificent and crucial element in nature but it can be a demon to humans.

    During a hot, dry Florida summer, an irresponsibly discarded cigarette flicked from a car window onto dry roadside grass can spread quickly into the woods. An unattended campfire or grill flame can flare into a threat to homes and yards. Gorgeous displays of summer lightning can create an unrestrained blaze that devastates neighborhoods, farmland and the silvaculture industry.

    This year, even though early estimates for Florida's 2003 fire season promised little action, the combination of a cold winter and scant spring rain might change things. Firefighters in the state can expect to be pretty busy, said Jim Harrell, wildfire mitigation coordinator for the Florida Division of Forestry.

    Though there are a few months when fire danger is typically high throughout the state, Harrell said Florida is pretty much a danger zone for wildfires all year long.

    "We do have a 12-month fire season. Anytime during the year if we go without rain for two weeks, we can have a serious fire." The most sensitive months are December through June.

    Winter weather also plays an important part in a fire season. If the winter preceding fire season is severe, freeze dried grasses and dead trees leave more tinder in the woods to burn.

    In Florida's northern areas, the state had a pretty cold winter. In Southwest Florida, temperatures turned cool for long periods but there was no hard freeze.

    Florida has 1.25 million acres of federal public land in four National Forests, and 34 million acres of land all together. Only two million acres have been mitigated for wildfires through prescribed burns, Harrell said.

    Most of the remaining land -- 49 percent -- that is not part of the state or federal park system is owned by corporations, farms and industry. Most of these private areas have not been cleared or managed for fire.

    So far this year throughout the state, a total of 1,076 fires have burned 9,601 acres of land. The Florida Division of Forestry reports that 246 fires were unauthorized and 97 were prescribed burns. In the unauthorized burns, 20 were caused by smoking, 21 from campfires, 89 from equipment use and 72 were set by children.

    The Myakka River District, which covers Manatee, DeSoto, Hardee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties, is the busiest fire district in the state so far this year. There have been 73 fires and 1,640 acres have burned.

    North Port Fire Chief Bill Taaffe said while there are no controlled burns scheduled for inside the city limits, he is working with homeowners, developers and ranchers on clearing and controlled burn tactics.

    Taaffe said a recent prescribed burn at Rawlings Ranch that burned 400 acres and a planned burn by the Southwest Florida Water Management District will create a western wildfire protection buffer from Warm Mineral Springs to the Interstate. Taaffe also plans to work with landowners in the east, north and south zones so the entire city is protected. Buffers along Interstate 75 also are being cleared.

    In an effort to alert people to daily fire danger, the city also plans to erect a fire danger sign on Highway 41, to "keep people from starting careless fires by tossing a cigarette."

    Beautiful, dangerous and mysterious, fire -- when controlled -- is actually beneficial for forests and open spaces. It clears out dead weeds, underbrush and small, weak trees. It creates valuable soil nutrients to rejuvenate plants and native Florida scrub. Renourished native plants become better food and habitat for indigenous bird and animal species.

    "Planned burns improve habitat," Harrell said. "We're talking about native animals and plants that have evolved with fire. Fire is a natural condition. Forage materials return right away for deer and gopher tortoises."

    The Florida Forest Protection Bureau reports that after devastating fires, indigenous plants such as Florida toothache grass and threeawn grass as well as beargrass, wild cocoa and rain lilies begin to thrive.

    "The federally endangered Rugel's pawpaw had a population of about 200 individuals before the (Central Florida) wildfires (of 1998). Afterward there were more than 2,000 plants and an increase in flowering," the Bureau report states.

    "Historically, before people started suppressing fire, 7 to 10 percent of the state burned every year and in 10 years the entire state would have burned," Harrell said.

    In the last 75 years, Floridians, because of increasing populations (the U.S. Census states that 711 people move to Florida every day) have been suppressing fires on both private and public lands.

    "We need more prescribed burns. Generally there is not enough burning anywhere in the state," Harrell said. "They are most beneficial. Most people don't understand. In Florida, wooded areas are going to burn sometime. If they aren't planned, then they will be more extensive."

    Prescribed burning can be controversial. Firefighters support burning underbrush to help them better manage forests and fires and to keep wildfires from becoming too hot to handle and burning out of control.

    In the 1998 Volusia County fires, more than 500,000 acres burned and cost $390 million to fight. The fires burned parks, open spaces and silvaculture areas, closed highways and interstates and threatened thousands of homes and rural areas. Hundreds of firefighters from other counties and states rushed in to lend a hand.

    The fires raged out of control. Huge flames rolled over the tops of trees, scorching forests and open space. All because Volusia County and private landowners had not been practicing prescribed burning.

    In 2000, as the National Forest Service and U.S. Department of the Interior publicly struggled with mastering the science of prescribed burns, a prescribed burn at Bandelier National Monument in northern New Mexico went awry.

    Designed to burn 300 acres, the fire got out of control when winds picked up to 60 mph. It scorched about 50,000 acres and razed almost 250 homes.

    In North Port in 2000, a prescribed burn got of control in Carlton Preserve near North Port Estates because weather conditions changed dramatically before firefighters could halt the burn. One home was destroyed in the fire.

    Other problems with controlled burns include environmental concerns over the destruction of old-growth habitat that is vital for owls and woodpecker species.

    Harrell said wildlife is taken into consideration when burns are done.

    In prescribed burns, the perimeter of the fire, number of acres to be burned and materials to be used to start and contain the fire are mapped out in advance. Those mapped areas include logging sensitive habitats such as scrub jay areas.

    Private landowners who want to clear their land also worry that burning underbrush will cause billowing smoke to impair the vision of interstate drivers. They become concerned over liability and decline to burn their land.

    The cost of prescribed burns is from $5 to $70 an acre up front, depending on the size of the fire, type of material being burned, terrain and its proximity to buildings, according to the Department of the Interior. Suppressing wildfires costs anywhere from $500 to $1,600 an acre, depending on the severity of the blaze.

    You can e-mail Carie L. Call at clcall@sun-herald.com


    By CARIE L. CALL

    Staff Writer
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  4. #4
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    Post Official Prepare for Worst--Visions of 1998 still in their eyes

    Firefighters gear up for early wildfire season
    Ominous signs, but risk still only moderate

    By KRISTEN MOCZYNSKI
    Staff Writer

    Last update: 19 May 2003


    DELAND -- An early start of summer thunderstorms has raised the fire danger and sparked a rash of brush fires.

    Lightning, high winds and low humidity have fueled a string of blazes that began this weekend and will continue through the summer, local fire officials said.

    Bill Hodges, a Division of Forestry duty officer, said the fire season generally peaks around the end of May.

    "It's just the time of year for it," he said. "Thunderstorms are getting started a little earlier this year."

    The Division of Forestry ranks fire risks on five levels -- from low to extreme. Right now, Volusia and Flagler counties have a moderate -- the next to lowest -- risk for fires.

    Bad weather sparked 15 blazes since last weekend in the division's three county area -- Flagler, Volusia and St. Johns -- including scattered brush fires in the Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, inDeLand and Daytona Beach.

    The DeLand Fire Department worked at least two brush fires on Saturday. Engineer Edward Fust said firefighters review brush fire methods and technology this time of the year.

    "You try to gear up and be ready for these hot fires," he said.

    A brush fire sparked by Saturday's lightning storm still is burning 1,000 acres of marsh grass in the southwest end of the wildlife refuge.

    Hodges said the fire is inaccessible because it is surrounded by the lake and marsh. A plane is flying over the area every morning to determine the size of the fire.

    Hodges said they are waiting for the fire to burn itself out, hit the natural water barrier or to be extinguished by a rainstorm. It is not a danger to anyone.

    Two other small lightning fires were extinguished Monday, he said.

    Lightning also may have been the cause of a small fire in Daytona Beach this weekend that came within an eighth of a mile of a gas station on Beville Road.

    "We'll probably get some more before the evening's over," Hodges said.

    kristen.moczynski@news-jrnl.com
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  5. #5
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    Post Increased Concerns

    Threat of fire increases

    Need for controlled burns continues


    Fire is a magnificent and crucial element in nature but it can be a demon to humans.

    During a hot, dry Florida summer, an irresponsibly discarded cigarette flicked from a car window onto dry roadside grass can spread quickly into the woods. An unattended campfire or grill flame can flare into a threat to homes and yards. Gorgeous displays of summer lightning can create an unrestrained blaze that devastates neighborhoods, farmland and the forestry industry.

    This year, even though early estimates for Florida's 2003 fire season promised little action, the combination of a cold winter and scant spring rain might change things. Firefighters in the state can expect to be pretty busy, said Jim Harrell, wildfire mitigation coordinator for the Florida Division of Forestry.


    Year-round danger zone

    Though there are a few months when fire danger is typically high throughout the state, Harrell said Florida is pretty much a danger zone for wildfires all year long.

    "We do have a 12-month fire season," he said. "Anytime during the year if we go without rain for two weeks, we can have a serious fire."

    The most sensitive months are December through June.

    Winter weather also plays an important part in a fire season. If the winter preceding fire season is severe, freeze-dried grasses and dead trees leave more tinder in the woods to burn.

    In Florida's northern areas, the state had a pretty cold winter. In Southwest Florida, temperatures turned cool for long periods but there was no hard freeze.


    More than 1,000 fires

    Florida has 1.25 million acres of federal public land in four national forests, and 34 million acres of public land all together. Only 2 million acres have been mitigated for wildfires through prescribed burns, Harrell said.

    Most of the remaining land -- 49 percent -- that is not part of the state or federal park system is owned by corporations, farms and industry. Most of these private areas have not been cleared or managed for fire.

    So far this year throughout the state, a total of 1,076 fires have burned 9,601 acres of land. The Florida Division of Forestry reports that 246 fires were unauthorized and 97 were prescribed burns. In the unauthorized burns, 20 were caused by smoking, 21 from campfires, 89 from equipment use and 72 were set by children.

    The Myakka River District, which covers Manatee, DeSoto, Hardee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties, is the busiest fire district in the state so far this year. There have been 73 fires and 1,640 acres have burned.


    Good fires

    Beautiful, dangerous and mysterious, fire -- when controlled -- is actually beneficial for forests and open spaces. It clears out dead weeds, underbrush and small, weak trees.

    It creates valuable soil nutrients to rejuvenate plants and native Florida scrub. Renourished native plants become better food and habitat for indigenous bird and animal species.

    "Planned burns improve habitat," Harrell said. "We're talking about native animals and plants that have evolved with fire. Fire is a natural condition. Forage materials return right away for deer and gopher tortoises."

    The Florida Forest Protection Bureau reports that after devastating fires, indigenous plants such as Florida toothache grass and threeawn grass as well as beargrass, wild cocoa and rain lilies begin to thrive.

    "The federally endangered Rugel's pawpaw had a population of about 200 individuals before the (Central Florida) wildfires (of 1998). Afterward there were more than 2,000 plants and an increase in flowering," the Bureau report states.

    "Historically, before people started suppressing fire, 7 to 10 percent of the state burned every year and in 10 years the entire state would have burned," Harrell said.

    In the last 75 years, Floridians, because of increasing populations (the U.S. Census states that 711 people move to Florida every day) have been suppressing fires on both private and public lands.

    "We need more prescribed burns. Generally there is not enough burning anywhere in the state," Harrell said. "They are most beneficial. Most people don't understand. In Florida, wooded areas are going to burn sometime. If they aren't planned, then they will be more extensive."


    Cheaper 'prescriptions'

    Prescribed burning can be controversial. Firefighters support burning underbrush to help them better manage forests and fires and to keep wildfires from becoming too hot to handle and burning out of control.

    In the 1998 Volusia County fires, more than 500,000 acres burned and cost $390 million to fight. The fires burned parks, open spaces and forestry areas, closed highways and interstates and threatened thousands of homes and rural areas. Hundreds of firefighters from other counties and states rushed in to lend a hand.

    The fires raged out of control. Huge flames rolled over the tops of trees, scorching forests and open space. All because Volusia County and private landowners had not been practicing prescribed burning.

    In 2000, as the National Forest Service and U.S. Department of the Interior publicly struggled with mastering the science of prescribed burns, a prescribed burn at Bandelier National Monument in northern New Mexico went awry.

    Designed to burn 300 acres, the fire got out of control when winds picked up to 60 mph. It scorched about 50,000 acres and razed almost 250 homes.

    In North Port in 2000, a prescribed burn got of control in Carlton Preserve near North Port Estates because weather conditions changed dramatically before firefighters could halt the burn. One home was destroyed in the fire.

    Other problems with controlled burns include environmental concerns over the destruction of old-growth habitat that is vital for owls and woodpecker species.

    Harrell said wildlife is taken into consideration when burns are done.

    In prescribed burns, the perimeter of the fire, number of acres to be burned and materials to be used to start and contain the fire are mapped out in advance. Those mapped areas include logging sensitive habitats such as scrub jay areas.

    Private landowners who want to clear their land also worry that burning underbrush will cause billowing smoke to impair the vision of interstate drivers. They become concerned over liability and decline to burn their land.

    The cost of prescribed burns is from $5-$70 an acre up front, depending on the size of the fire, type of material being burned, terrain and its proximity to buildings, according to the Department of the Interior. Suppressing wildfires costs anywhere from $500 to $1,600 an acre, depending on the severity of the blaze.

    Be 'Firewise' during fire season


    The Florida Division of Forestry gauges the threat of brush fires on the zero to 800 scale of the Keetch-Byram Drought Index. Friday, the index showed Sarasota County in the 400-500 range, which indicates the midpoint between extremely wet and extremely dry conditions.

    The state's Firewise program offers tips to homeowners to reduce their risk of damage from brush fires. Among the tips:

    * Clear a 30-foot defensible perimeter around homes.

    * Keep roofs and gutters clean, removing pine needles, leaves and other organic materials.

    * Eliminate all combustible materials, such as wood, propane tanks, boats, automobiles and other vehicles from under or near homes or other structures.

    * Trim trees, vines and other vegetation away from homes and other structures.

    * Use gravel for mulch or keep combustible mulch moist.

    * Keep highly flammable plants, such as palmettos, away from houses or other structures.

    When facing the immediate threat from a brush fire, evacuate when requested and follow any directions by firefighters, police or other emergency personnel.

    If and when time allows, the experts say to:

    * Close all doors and windows.

    * Close heavy drapes, blinds or hurricane shutters.

    * Remove lightweight curtains.

    * Move flammable furniture away from windows and glass doors.

    * Back automobiles into garages and disconnect any automatic garage openers.

    * Turn off gas and fuel supplies at their connections.

    * Connect a garden hose with a nozzle to an outside tap.


    You can e-mail Carie L. Call at: clcall@sun-herald.com.


    By Carie L. Call

    Staff Writer
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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