Wildfire draws attention to need for fire safety

A wildfire in the Everglades spread to more than 32,000 acres in one day last week, causing a brief closure of Alligator Alley due to heavy smoke. A rainstorm helped Florida Forest Service firefighters get the blaze under control.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/FFS
The Florida Forest Service shared this photo of a wildfire that burned more than 32,000 acres of the Everglades in western Broward County on June 25.

Wildfires from lightning strikes are common in Florida. Florida experiences the second highest number of wildfires in the nation.

“Fire is a natural part of our Florida ecosystems. It is not a matter of if we are going to have wildfires, but when will we have wildfires and at what intensity,” warns the Forest Service website. “Homeowners must assume a major role in wildfire protection by taking action to reduce the ignitability of their homes before the threat of a wildfire.”

According to the Florida Forest Service, over the past 50 years, more and more Floridians have moved out of our cities to build homes and businesses in outlying fringe areas known as the wildland/urban interface (WUI). In fact, almost one-third of our population now lives in interface areas where structures intermingle with forests and wildlands. Residents here, however, usually don’t realize they may live too “close to nature” and they may, in fact, be living on the edge of a wildfire disaster.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/FFS
The Keetch-Byram drought index (KBDI) is a continuous reference scale for estimating the dryness of the soil and duff layers.

The Forest Service advises homeowners to create a defensible space within 30 feet of the structure. This space should be lean (small amounts of flammable vegetation), clean (no accumulation of dead vegetation) and green (plants are healthy and green.)

Reducing fuel within the defensible space means creating a landscape that breaks up the continuity of brush and other vegetation that could bring wildfire in contact with any flammable portion of the structure.

This may involve:
• Eliminating any flammable vegetation in contact with the structure;
• Thinning out trees and shrubs so there is 10 to 15 feet between the tree crowns;
• Pruning tree limbs to a height of 6 to 10 feet;
• Replacing highly flammable landscape material with plant materials having a higher water content;
• Replacing flammable mulch adjacent to the structure with gravel or rock;
• Eliminating “ladder fuels” near the structure that might carry a surface fire to the roof or eaves.

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