Local wildfire incidents are higher this year compared to the same time last year. Rangers from the Caloosahatchee Forestry Center need your help to keep wildfires from threatening the area. Rangers, in partnership with area fire departments and other agencies, have already run more calls in Collier, Lee and Hendry counties than they have last year.
Here’s how local Division of Forestry numbers compare from Jan. 1-April 26 to the same time last year:
• Collier County: 31 wildfires so far this year compared to 16 last year;
• Lee County: 26 wildfires so far this year compared to 23 last year; and
• Hendry County: 17 wildfires so far this year compared to 11 last year.
May is typically one of the busiest months for wildfires in Southwest Florida and we anticipate these numbers will increase until the rainy season arrives in June. Common sense and personal responsibility are vital to ensure you and your family members are safe from wildfires. Dry, dead vegetation doesn’t need much to turn into a wildfire that threatens homes – a hot lawnmower, an overheated ATV engine, a property owner who insists on burning yard debris or even a curious, unsupervised child.
However, most of these wildfires are preventable, and you can significantly reduce your risk with a few easy tips:
• Remove dense vegetation from around structures, trim overhanging branches, and carefully plan your landscaping within 30 feet of homes;
• Prune tree limbs so the lowest branches are 6 to 10 feet from the ground;
• Remove any large groupings of plants like saw palmetto, yaupon, wax myrtle and gallberry, especially if the plants are close to a home, adjacent decks or porches or under eaves or overhangs;
• Instead of flammable mulch like bark or wood chips, use lava stone or coarse gravel around any shrubbery that is within 5 feet of the structure;
• Locate firewood and propane gas tanks at least 50 feet from the structure; and
• Keep driveways clear of overhanging branches and ensure driveways are 12-14 feet wide.
Collier, Lee and Hendry counties have at least two years of dry, dead vegetation on the ground that was killed off by our winter weather. Last year’s earlier rains kept many wildfires at bay. Our counties are drier than ever this year, and we need your help to reduce wildfire risk.
Please contact us with questions. We are happy to provide guidance to our residents about how they can make their properties safe from wildfires. We offer free, personalized advice for individuals and neighborhoods.
For more information, call (239) 690-3500, ext. 104 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Victor A. Hill is a wildfire mitigation specialist, Caloosahatchee Forestry Center.