Fire season has become a year-round reality in Florida, requiring firefighters and residents to be on heightened alert for the threat of wildfire throughout the year.
As Florida’s population has increased through the years so has the number of homes built on the edge of forests or wildlands. This area, commonly referred to as the Wildland/Urban Interface, presents real challenges for the homeowner in managing wildfire risk. Each year, nationally, wildfires consume hundreds of homes located in these areas.
Each year the Florida Forest Service (FFS) implements fuel reduction projects designed to reduce or mitigate the buildup of natural fuels from around homes and communities. These projects target high wildfire-risk areas and the work is primarily performed using prescribed fire.
Studies have shown that as many as 80 percent of the homes lost to wildfires could have been saved if their owners followed a few simple fire-safe practices. The reality today is that there are simply not enough fire engines or firefighters available to defend and save every home in a major wildfire. Today’s homeowner in the Wildland/Urban Interface must take personal responsibility for himself, family and home by being proactive in reducing his wildfire risk. However, many residents still don’t have a full understanding of the impact that wildfire could have on their homes and properties.
The FFS has been working to solve this problem through community outreach programs that teach homeowners and communities simple fire – safe concepts that will help them to manage their wildfire risk. The National Firewise program and the Ready, Set, Go program are both being currently implemented by the FFS throughout the state. Both programs highlight homeowner responsibility in protecting their homes from the threat of wildfire.
Over the past two years, the FFS has been working with residents of The Plantation community on St George Island to assist them in managing the wildfire risk to their community using Firewise presentations and principles. Community volunteers thinned out forest fuels by hand in an area that is planned for a prescribed burn the first part of 2015. This burn will help reduce the chances for a wildfire to occur in this area. FFS personnel continue to encourage residents to provide for defensible space around their homes by clearing back brush and dead material located next to the home. The goal is to get the residents to work together as a community to manage their wildfire risk and certify them as a National Firewise Community.
Recently, the FFS made a Firewise presentation to the residents of Hickory Hammock at their annual meeting in Carrabelle. Several of these residents have properties that border Tate’s Hell State Forest. The FFS plans to work cooperatively with these homeowners to mitigate the fuel load on their property and along the boundary lines of the state forest. Working together to help them to reduce and manage their wildfire risk and certify them as a Firewise Community is the goal for this community as well.
It is everyone’s responsibility to be proactive about reducing wildfire risk. For more information about these educational programs and fuel reduction (mitigation), log on to www.Firewise.org, www.Wildlandfirersg.org, www.Fireadapted.org and www.FloridaForestService.com
Todd Schroeder is wildfire mitigation specialist at the Tallahassee Forestry Center. He can be reached at (850) 681-5960 or Todd.Schroeder@FreshFromFlorida.com
Firewise, don’t be foolish
Provide for at least 30 feet of defensible space in all directions around your home. (Nothing combustible)
Keep rooftops and gutters clean to avoid fire from ember collection
Remove ladder fuels (shrubs that enable a fire to climb into the treetops)
Keep yard free of dead vegetation
Don’t store or locate combustible materials near home
Use fire resistant building materials
Plant fire-resistant vegetation