Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam said Wednesday morning that following an investigation led by his Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement, a prescribed burn conducted by Wildland Fire Services, Inc. on behalf of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission caused the wildfire in Eastpoint, which burned more than 800 acres and destroyed 36 homes.
“My heart goes out to those affected by this devastating wildfire, and I thank all of our partners in the response effort to stop the spread of the fire,” said Putnam.
The Florida Forest Service led response efforts to contain and extinguish the wildfire with assistance from: the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Eastpoint Volunteer Fire Department, and other local fire departments.
During the course of the investigation, other possible causes, such as lightning, arson and fire accidentally caused by man, were eliminated.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also released the following statement this morning.
As the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services continues to investigate the unknown cause of the Limerock Wildfire that destroyed a significant amount of property in Franklin County late on Sunday, FWC initiated an Inspector General investigation and has suspended its prescribed fire program statewide.
On Monday, June 18, seven days prior to the Limerock Wildfire, a private company which was contracted by FWC conducted a 480-acre prescribed fire in the Apalachicola River Wildlife and Environmental Area. This prescribed fire was separated from the Eastpoint neighborhood by 580 acres of private land. While the cause of the wildfire is still unknown and is being investigated by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the FWC Inspector General is also investigating that all protocols and operations at FWC’s prescribed fire program were followed and that the agency’s program provides the safest operation.
Eric Sutton, executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said, “At FWC, safety is always our top priority. Due to the proximity of last week’s prescribed fire to the Limerock Wildfire that caused severe damage, we have launched an investigation and will completely review all policies and procedures with prescribed fires. If the multiple ongoing investigations find that any safety protocols were not followed, we will take the proper steps to ensure accountability. Our focus remains with the families who were affected by the wildfire and our agency is committed to working to help this community get back on its feet.”
FWC is one of several government agencies responsible for burning and burns more than 100,000 acres a year on public lands. The prescribed fire protocols and training requirements are thorough and rigorous. In Florida, prescribed fires are carried out by multiple state agencies, and each prescribed fire plan is approved by state fire safety experts with several checks and balances in place to ensure public safety. Prescribed fires carried out by FWC are done by both FWC staff and contracted certified experts.