Bad memories of brush fires keep residents alert during dry season

Bad memories of brush fires keep residents alert during dry season

18 April 2013

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USA — Nearly five years after a brush fire ripped through their neighborhood and charred their home, the Steinheiser family has replaced almost everything that could be repurchased.
Nothing goes to waste anymore. Sandy Steinheiser will drink milk in a wineglass, or use the fancy china for a regular meal.

“There’s no saving everything for a special day,” she said.

In May 2008, the Steinheisers were one of three families who lost everything to an 800-acre fire. Still living in the Estates, Sandy Steinheiser said the threat of another fire is an occasional, but real concern. Just last week, she found ash on her car and immediately sought information on where and how close the fire was.

Local fire officials are gearing up for another active brush fire season, with Southwest Florida experiencing drier than normal conditions.

“We had some significant rain for a couple days last week, but two weeks before that, we were extremely busy with brush fires,” said East Naples Fire Chief Kingman Schuldt. “A week and a half ago, we had three pretty good size brush fires in one day.”

The Florida Forest Service says the Fort Myers area is about 3.5 inches below the normal to-date rainfall. As of Friday, both Collier and Lee counties fell near the middle of the Keetch Byram Drought Index, a scale that measures soil moisture and is a good determiner of fire potential.

Golden Gate Assistant Fire Chief Nolan Sapp said his department is cautious of any time when winds rise above 15 mph or humidity drops below 35 percent. During the dry season, the district sends out extra crews as a precautionary measure, especially when there’s word of a fire north of Interstate 75 near Everglades or Desoto boulevards.

“The urban interface, where you have houses ingrained with nature, we’re always concerned,” Sapp said. “You’ve got to realize backup (from another agency) is going to be 20 to 45 minutes behind you with a long drive ahead.”

People burning trash or debris on their properties need to be especially careful, he said. In the past few weeks, the district has been called to two fires caused by people who left fire pits unattended after they started burning lawn debris.

“If it gets out and burns your property, that’s one thing, but if it crosses into another family’s property, you’re responsible,” Sapp said.

After the 2008 fire, the Steinheisers rebuilt their home, but Sandy Steinheiser said the bank foreclosed on it after her husband died in August. Someone else purchased the house, she said, but her family still lives in the Estates.

“We’re a typical family, we went back to work, the kids went back to school and life goes on,” she reflected. “You pick everything up, put everything back together and that’s it.”

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