‘The price of living in a nature-lover’s paradise’

Until the afternoon rains come, the risk for wildfires remains high – which is nothing new for this time of the year, according to the Division of Forestry.

“It’s kind of par for the course,” spokeswoman Melissa Yunas said.

Two weeks without rain – and poof, there’s a wildfire.

March through May are the driest months of the year, Yunas said, but that doesn’t make those months “fire season.”

“There’s no such thing as ‘fire season’ here,” she said. It’s the price of living in a nature-lover’s paradise, Yunas said, explaining that St. Lucie County has done well to keep green space and not become an urban jungle of concrete and high-rises like what is found in South Florida.

Wildfires last week prompted the evacuation of about 40 homes in the Southbend area. The 70-acre wildfire (picture a space of nearly 54 football fields) – called “Luck Wildfire” – was quickly contained and extinguished. No homes were damaged, though a plastic shed and some vinyl fencing melted, according to Yunas.

A few wooden fences were pulled down, too, to allow fire crews access to battle the blaze.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

“Anything can easily spark a fire,” said Yunas said, from a lawn mower catching a rock to a golf cart riding too deep into the rough.

ATVs and motorbikes without spark arresters also have been known to ignite wildfires.

In the event a wildfire is accidentally sparked, call 911 immediately, Yunas said. Doing so gets crews to the scene that much faster, increasing the chances the blaze will be contained quickly.

If a fire is sparked and it can be traced back to someone – especially a someone who didn’t call it in – that person could be in a heap of trouble.

The worst-case scenario, according to Yunas, happened recently in Sebring where a person intentionally set a wildfire. Not only was the accused culprit charged with a third-degree felony, but also billed for the fire’s suppression cost and the cost of the damages the fire caused.

“It’s a case-by-case basis,” Yunas said of whether or not a wildfire will net criminal charges or bills.

The Division of Forestry warns that ash and embers from a wildfire can travel as far as a quarter-mile on the breeze and spark a secondary blaze.

To keep that from damaging your property, though there are no guarantees, Yunas recommends you keep your yard well-watered. Currently, there are no water restrictions on lawn irrigation. If the grass in your yard is nice and green, it’s well hydrated and more resistant to a stray ember.

“Keep your yard lean, clean and green,” Yunas said. Green means hydrated; lean means cropped short (no tall grass!); and clean means no debris that can easily catch fire.

Keeping roofs clean of fallen leaves and pine needles and other detritus will help to prevent fire catching, as well. And, making sure you have a 30-foot buffer between your property and conservation/preservation/woods/etc., can also help.

“We’re in this for the long haul,” Yunas said. “We don’t have to lose a house.”

 

For more information about current fire conditions, wildfires, and the Division of Forestry itself, visit www.FreshFromFlorida.com and click on “Divisions and Offices” and select “Florida Forest Service.”    

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