A wildfire caused by burning leaves in the 600 block of East Pine Drive decimated a large block of the buffer preserve on St. George Island last weekend.
Apparently, wind whipped a burning pile of leaves into a firestorm. More than 68 acres, most of it public land, burned although Clint Davis, operations director for Tate’s Hell State Forest, said some private property was also affected.
Rick Crossen of 697 East Pine is facing misdemeanor charges for reckless burning, according to Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith. Crossen met with representatives from the Florida Forest Service on Sunday and received a notice of violation for the wildfire. Forest service representatives said the homeowner will be responsible for the cost of suppression of the wildfire by state employees. He could also face 60 days in jail, six months of probation, and a $500 fine, if convicted of the second-degree misdemeanor.
On Monday, April 10, St. George Island Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jay Abbott said the Forest Service employees were using bulldozers on site attempting to control smoldering hot spots. He said the St. George Island firefighters were called out twice on Sunday night to control flare-ups.
Abbott said fire trucks from Apalachicola, St. George Island, Lanark Village, Eastpoint and Carrabelle responded to the fire in addition to Forest Service employees and sheriff’s deputies. All told there were three bulldozers and about 15 fire trucks on the scene on Saturday.
“It still wasn’t enough,” said Abbott, who offered thanks to everyone who responded to the call for aid.
Davis described the scene as “well-orchestrated chaos.” He praised the local fire departments and the sheriff’s department for their teamwork.
Firefighters created a fire break where a swath of forest was reduced to mineral soil to halt the progress of the conflagration.
The fire began sometime around 1:30 p.m. on Saturday with the first fire trucks arriving before 2 p.m. Forestry workers, sheriff’s deputies and firefighters struggled to bring it under control until 2 a.m. Sunday morning.
The sheriff’s department began asking people living along East Pine Street to evacuate late Saturday afternoon. Many refused to leave their homes. The Jay Abbott Fire House was opened to evacuees but nobody sheltered there.
Davis said residents of 55 houses were asked to leave and 28 structures were in danger of burning, but thanks to hard skillful work, no structures were damaged and nobody was injured.
“We were very happy and satisfied with the work that structure fire departments and the sheriff’s department did on the wildfire," said Florida Forest Service County Supervisor Joey Taranto. "Everybody worked together extremely well.”
Taranto said mitigation of conditions conducive to fire prior to an emergency is important. He said the Forest Service has a mitigation program and will work with homeowners to prepare for wildfire.
“We go around and teach people what they can do,” he said.
Anyone interested in a visit from a forester can call 697-0010 to learn about the mitigation program.