Wildfires can cause major environmental, social and economic damages. The loss of timber, wildlife habitat, homes and even lives may result from a devastating wildfire. The wildfire that does not start is the one that does not have to be fought.
Prevention is the key in helping to reduce the number of human caused fires- one of the most important goals for the Florida Forest Service. Even though Florida is the lightning capital of the world, arson and escaped debris burning are still the two main causes of wildfires in Florida.
Florida’s fire dependent ecosystems and year round fire season pose a challenge to wildland fire fighters in their attempt to continually educate Floridians and visitors about wildfire danger in Florida.
The Florida Forest Service has several education and mitigation programs aimed at reducing all types of human caused fire.
Over the past 50 years, more and more Floridians have moved out of our cities to build homes and businesses in outlying fringe areas known as the wildland/urban interface (WUI). In fact, almost one-third of our population now lives in interface areas where structures intermingle with forests and wildlands. Residents here, however, usually don't realize they may live too "close to nature" and they may, in fact, be living on the edge of a wildfire disaster.
On average, Florida experiences the second highest number of wildfires in the nation. During dry years, Florida experiences severe wildfires — wildfires that destroy homes, disrupt people's lives and impact our economy.
Is Your Home Firewise?
Much of what is known about protecting homes from wildland fire is based upon the work of Jack Cohen, a Fire Research Scientist at the U.S. Forest Service Fire Lab in Missoula, Montana. Cohen has been studying wildfires for almost 30 years. His research and field investigations support some interesting explanations for home losses associated with wildland/urban interface fires. Cohen has found that most wildland/urban interface homes are lost because of ignitions associated with the two most vulnerable parts of a home:
1. The roof
2. The area immediately surrounding the structure
Cohen's research results indicate that home ignitions usually occur over relatively short distances — tens of yards, not hundreds of feet from little things associated with either:
• Fire brands landing on and around the structure, or
• Flames from slow-moving, low-intensity surface fires contacting flammable portions of the structure.
This means that the homeowner can play a significant role in reducing home losses from wildfires by reducing fuels and through careful landscaping in what Cohen calls the "home ignition zone," an area that extends outward from the home 100 to 200 feet in all directions.
Research has shown that the home ignition zone principally determines the potential for home ignitions during severe wildfires.
Case studies indicate that the most critical area is a zone of "defensible space" within 30 feet of the structure.
Maintaining a lean, clean and green* landscape within 30 feet of a structure can make a significant difference in whether it survives a wildfire. The important thing is that action must be taken before wildfire threatens.
• Lean — small amounts of flammable vegetation
• Clean — no accumulations of dead vegetation
• Green — plants are healthy and green; lawn is well irrigated
Reducing fuel within the defensible space means creating a landscape that breaks up the continuity of brush and other vegetation that could bring wildfire in contact with any flammable portion of the structure.
This may involve:
• Eliminating any flammable vegetation in contact with the structure
• Thinning out trees and shrubs so there is 10 to 15 feet between the tree crowns
• Pruning tree limbs to a height of 6 to 10 feet
• Replacing highly flammable landscape material with plant materials having a higher water content
• Replacing flammable mulch adjacent to the structure with gravel
•Eliminating "ladder fuels" near the structure that might carry a surface fire to the roof or eaves
Fire is a natural part of our Florida ecosystems. It is not a matter of if we are going to have wildfires, but when will we have wildfires and at what intensity. Homeowners must assume a major role in wildfire protection by taking action to reduce the ignitability of their homes before the threat of a wildfire.
The Florida Forest Service Wildfire Prevention Clown program is the only one of its kind in wildland fire. The prevention clowns teach children about the dangers of wildfire, not to play with matches and how to stay safe. They accomplish this through wildfire skits, magic programs and just talking to them about fire. Kids relate very well to the clowns and their message, remembering it for a long time. Every year at the Florida State Fair, children come by the Florida Forest Discovery Center looking for their favorite clown. The clowns also accompany Smokey Bear to many programs. Since Smokey can’t talk, the clowns do a very good job of explaining Smokey’s message to the children.
Florida Department. of Agriculture. & Consumer Service