Don’t leave windows blocked with shutters

OKEECHOBEE — Some Okeechobee residents who live in mobile homes were disturbed the week after Hurricane Dorian to come home and find yellow tags on their doors left by the Okeechobee County Tax Collector’s Office. The tags said there was no visible sticker on the mobile home and asked the resident to contact the office to take care of it.

The people receiving the notices were upset because they said they do have up-to-date tax stickers, but they were in their windows and their windows were covered by shutters because the tax collector’s office did this check three days after Hurricane Dorian was a potential threat to the area.

Celeste Watford, Okeechobee County tax collector, said she did think about that when her people went out, but she really didn’t see any other option. They had this scheduled for months in advance and they teamed up with the Property Appraiser’s Office so they had to go when they went. If they didn’t go now, they would not be able to do it this year at all, she said, because they are coming up on their busiest time of year. Ms. Watford said anyone who got a yellow tag who already has a sticker should just disregard it. It was just meant as a reminder in case people forgot to renew, because she said it is very easy to forget.

Just like a vehicle tag, these stickers are supposed to be renewed every year. The sticker should be placed in the lower left-hand corner of the window closest to the street or road providing access to your residence.

Because the shutters were blocking the view of the stickers, this seemed like a good time to discuss the safety of leaving shutters or plywood over windows indefinitely.

City Code Enforcement Officer Fred Sterling said he researched it, and there is no municipal code pertaining to plywood or shutters on windows. He does, however, have great concern for the safety of people living in homes with all the windows covered. He said it would be very difficult for the people in those homes to get out in the event of a fire. He said he understands why people might worry about more storms out there, but he would certainly uncover one window in each room to make it easier to escape if you needed to. “Yes, there are doors,” he said. “But what if that is where the fire is?”

Captain Ryan Hathaway of Okeechobee County Fire Rescue said: “The modern-day house fire grows at an extremely fast rate, doubling in size every minute. The average time to escape can be as little as three minutes from time of ignition. I would recommend that all homes remove their shutters or plywood from their windows, have working smoke alarms in the home, and always know two ways out!”

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