2017 Brush Fire Season Exceeds Expectations

Article from North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District

Beginning earlier than normal due to extreme drought conditions in our state, the 2017 brush fire season has exceeded expectations.

Since last fall, the Fire Districts of North Collier, Greater Naples Fire and the Florida Forest Service have provided information to the public about the high risks of this year’s brush fire season.  Through town hall meetings, email distributions, newspaper articles, television news stories and door-to-door contact with homeowners, we are working hard to ensure that everyone is aware of the danger this season.

With brush fire season in full swing, all agencies are in full suppression mode combating daily the numerous brush fires, small and large, popping up around the County, including the Lee Williams Road Fire in March and the recent Golden Gate Estates fires this month.

On April 11, 2017, Governor Rick Scott issued Executive Order 17-120 which declared a State of Emergency for the State of Florida. The order activates the State’s Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan to cope with the fires and grants approval for assistance from the Federal government as well as agencies from other states and allows for reimbursement for costs to fight the fires.

Additionally, on April 25, 2017, Collier County issued a burn ban.  The ban makes it illegal for anyone to set fire, or cause fire to be set, in any forest, grassland, wild land, marsh, vegetation, or land in urban or rural areas. This includes campfires, bonfires, fire pits and the burning of yard trash or other debris. Residents are allowed to use outdoor grills, stoves, cookers and smokers when preparing food if the fire is controlled and attended.  Those who violate the ban can face up to $15,000 fines.

In addition to suppression, other efforts include working with Collier County, Forestry and various communities, both gated and not, to move forward with a plan to mitigate areas of concern, including untouched preserve lands within 30 feet of homes and other structures. Although many preserve lands are protected, our partners in Forestry can assist with obtaining permissions to clear preserve lands hazardously encroaching on communities.

Also of great concern are urban interface areas where homes are within or near wooded areas. North Collier Fire has put forth a District wide plan to keep residents and homes safer during this high-risk brush fire season. In early January, the District teamed up with Collier County and Forestry to host town hall meetings for residents in these urban interface areas. In addition, teams were deployed into appropriate neighborhoods to identify at-risk homes, making contact with the homeowners and leaving informational door tags for homeowners not at home. The information included how residents can prepare their homes, including creating 30 feet of clear space around the home, keeping gutters clear, removing combustibles, wetting down vegetation and evacuating as early as possible. Nearly 200 homes were identified as “at risk” with many of those homeowners now taking steps to create defensible space around their property.

To assist residents and communities with concerns about brush fires, several national programs are available:

Firewise Communities
This national program empowers neighbors to work together in reducing their wildfire risk.  Becoming a Firewise community involves a five-step process for which neighborhoods throughout the United States are embracing.  Visit firewise.org for more information.

 Ready, Set, Go!
Another focus of North Collier Fire is promoting the Ready, Set, Go!, a national program that includes the “firewise” concept and emphasizes, “You can’t get ready when the fire starts; you have to be ready before”.

READY: Create a clean, fire resistant space around the home. This includes cleaning your gutters, cutting trees/shrubs back 30 feet from your home and removing combustibles, giving first responders safety and accessibility to help save your home in the event of a wildfire.

SET: Create an evacuation plan and a 72-hour emergency to-go kit including medications, water, non-perishable food, credit cards/cash, family photos, personal hygiene products and valuable documents.

GO: When it is time, go as early as possible and do not linger. Understand the risks and minimize them.
Visit freshfromflorida.com to download your Ready, Set Go! Wildfire Action Planning Tool.

Let the recent fires act as a reminder that we cannot take brush fire risks lightly.   We have two months remaining in the dry season, and fire conditions are expected to worsen.  If we continue our efforts to create a firewise and ready community, we believe we can better protect the homes, structures and lives of those in Collier County.

For additional information, or to have us speak at your group or community meeting about brush fire protection, please contact Inspector Heather Mazurkiewicz at (239) 552-1358.

The Board of Fire Commissioners and staff of North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District have worked diligently to this point to ensure the success of this merger. You can be assured that we will continue to work just as hard in the future for continued success, while always considering opportunities for further cooperation or consolidation that provide savings to all parties involved.