Area firefighters seeing increase in brush fire intensity due to dry conditions

Area firefighters seeing increase in brush fire intensity due to dry conditions

12 May 2009

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USA — Some area firefighters haven’t seen a huge increase in brush fires lately, while others have. But all of the region’s firefighters report that the worst problem is an increase in the intensity of those they do fight.

Robert Potteiger, the assistant chief of the East Naples Fire Department, said the boost in strength of the fires is the result of dry underbrush that can light quickly and violently.

“It’s like a bomb going off,” Potteiger said.

He said his department hasn’t noticed a major spike in the number of brush fires this season.

But Southwest Florida has seen its fair share of wildfires in recent weeks, and Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson believes there are more to come. According to a press release, the state agency expects incidences of wildfires in central and south Florida to increase, due in part to dry conditions.

Victor Hill, the public information officer for the Golden Gate Fire Control and Rescue District, said that his department has seen an increase in the quantity and intensity of wildfires lately.

Hill said that the main culprit is drier conditions. He also said that stronger winds are making matters worse, fanning the flames and causing spotting, which is when embers from wildfires float across fire lines and start new fires, making containment more difficult.

Hill said he expects wildfires to continue to increase in frequency until rain levels increase and drought conditions improve.

Pottieger does not expect an increase in wildfires in the coming months. Hill disagrees.

“We agree with the agency’s assessment,” he said of the Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services release.

According to the agency, there have been 2,000 wildfires since January 1, burning almost 56,000 acres, including 63 wildfires that broke out during the Mother’s Day weekend alone. The agency said that 98 percent of those fires were caused by people, and were preventable.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the Big Cypress National Preserve announced that a fire that had been burning uncontrolled for the past three weeks had finally been contained. The resilient fire burned about 30,000 acres in the preserve before fire crews were able to get it under control.

In its release, the state agency suggests that individuals “refrain from tossing lighted cigarettes out of car windows, avoid any unnecessary outdoor burning, use caution in using power tools and check with officials to see if it is a dangerous burning day or if there is a local burn ban in effect.”

Pottieger said that, in general, citizens of Collier County have been good about not tossing lit cigarettes or engaging in other activities that can lead to wildfires, and that police have done a good job of ticketing those who do.

Although he hasn’t seen an increase in wildfires, Potteiger said that an increase in homes in his district has led to more demand for the East Naples Fire Department. He said that some fires that in the past would have been allowed to burn out naturally now require attention due to their proximity to newer residential areas.

Hill said that, in addition to occupied dwellings, the Golden Gate fire district has found itself faced with wildfires spreading near vacated or foreclosed homes more frequently of late. He said that those homes often have overgrown vegetation and can be more susceptible to fires as a result.

The East Naples and Golden Gate fire departments most recently responded to a brush fire that broke out Friday, near the intersection of Sable Palm Road and Brandy Lane.

That fire burned 125 acres, destroying a Jeep and an abandoned trailer before those departments, in cooperation with the Isles of Capri and Marco Island fire rescue districts, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, Division of Forestry and the Department of Environmental Protection, managed to control the blaze.

Both Potteiger and Hill stressed the importance of inter-agency cooperation to controlling wildfires and preventing property damage.

“All the departments around here are very dependent on each other for aid,” Hill said. He said that, when it comes to wildfire control, a fast response is vital.

“That’s really the most important factor,” Hill said.

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