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Brush fire scorches 18 acres on Pine Island

Blaze started accidentally with man using cutting torch

March 29, 2012
Lehigh Acres Citizen

Blazes that filled the air with thick black smoke late Wednesday afternoon in Bokeelia were accidentally set by a man using a cutting torch to cut metal in his back yard.

The fire, which was located off of Cristi Way, was paged in at 5:41 Wednesday evening, mobilizing the Lee Striker Team through a 911 call.

Victor Hill, Florida Forest Service Wildfire Mitigation Specialist for the Caloosahatchee Forestry Center, said the Pine Island and Matlacha Fire Department are really good at dealing with wildfires and the ability to mobilize units when additional help is needed.

Article Photos

Steve Conley
Eighteen acres were destroyed during a brush fire that took place in Bokeelia Wednesday.

Sparks from the cutting torch ignited the fire, Hill said.

"He tried to put the fire out, but it got away from him," he said, adding that charges are still pending due to the Forestry having to decide how to handle the situation. "He didn't mean to start it."

He said the gentleman has been very cooperative in talking with investigators about what occurred Wednesday. Hill said the man may have to pay suppression costs for the brush fire.

The cloud of smoke was dynamic due to the winds in the area. Hill said eight service agencies fought the fire Wednesday night, which was 100 percent contained before 10 p.m. Although four houses were in immediate danger, no structures were lost to the fire.

Harley Whitehurst, who resides on Cristi Way, said he saw the fire when he drove into his yard after coming home from work Wednesday. He said when he arrived home, his back yard was blazing. He ran in the house called 911 and began hosing down his yard, which he continued until 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Whitehurst said his neighbor started the fire. Although there was no damage to his home, approximately an acre burned, along with palmettos and pine trees.

"If I did not have a pond in my back yard it would have burned my house down," he said.

The pond saved his home because of the hole it provides where no palmettos stand. He said there was nothing there to burn.

"It burned around my pond," he said due to the wind taking the fire toward the northeast.

The fire department, Whitehurst said, arrived at his house first, before the fire jumped to another location.

"It was very scary," he said.

The large cloud of smoke, Hill said, occurred because of the dense saw palmettos and pine trees that are located in the area. That type of vegetation puts up a large column of smoke. He said when you have dry conditions and low humidity,they are going to burn.

Hill said when the vegetation is patchy the fire moves in a masonic pattern when it burns and when it crosses open areas the fire goes down a little bit causing the cloud of smoke to decrease as well.

The brush fire, which was initially believed to have burned 25 acres, was decreased to 18 acres Thursday morning after the Forestry had the opportunity to gage the damage in daylight.

A carport located off of Eagle Nest Drive had vinyl siding damage due to the fire.

Hill said the carport was a detachable garage with very superficial damage. He said it does not take a lot for vinyl lining to burn.

A front-end loader, which was located a block over between Cristi Way and Eagle Nest Drive, also suffered damage. Hill said the front-end loader was parked in a field and its right tire burned off, along with other damage.

The brush fire also damaged two abandoned boats, an RV and boat trailer.

LCEC and Century Link were out looking at the power lines Thursday morning and afternoon due to the fire.

The Pine Island Fire Department and the Matlacha Fire Department remained at the scene Thursday afternoon, along with the Florida Forest Service's Myakka and Caloosahatchee units, as well as the South Trail Fire Department to conduct an investigation.

Hill said they were letting units work for a little while before they were relieved just in case further assistance was needed.

After Hurricane Charley struck the area in 2004, Hill said they worked with the community to widen some of the roads in that area by doing a series of corridors to open up space in case fires occurred. He said with the reduction of time and resources it became more difficult to be actively involved in that activity.

Hill said they are going to be meeting with the fire chiefs to schedule a community forum to talk to residents about how to reduce fires around their properties.

"We are going to directly address the challenge out here," he said.

The efforts to renew more corridors will also take place. Hill said although only four homes were in danger during the fire Wednesday, that was four too many.

Firewise Communities is another outreach program. Hill said he meets with the community or individual neighborhoods to do a risk assessment on their property and provide a workshop for residents to show the issues on their property, along with working on a plan to solve those issues.

He said they conduct the program in partnership with local fire departments.

For more information, contact Hill at 239-690-3500, extension 104.



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