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Forest managers issue more burn bans so campfires don't become wildfires

Bayles, Tom

As drought grips Southwest Florida, and the threat of wildfires grows stronger, forest managers are issuing burn bans so that campfires don’t become wildfires.

“We’ve all seen our ponds and creeks and drainage areas getting quite low, which is an indication on how deep the drought is,” Dan Summers, director of the Collier County Bureau of Emergency Services, said. “These fires can get away from you in a second, so it is really important to stay in compliance with these burn bans.”

Collier County has joined Lee, Charlotte and Hendry counties in putting in temporary rules against burning stuff. Sarasota County has a year-round rule against burning yard waste. The South Florida Water Management District has banned most burning on its lands, too.

No two burns bans prohibit the exact same things because of the specific threats an area faces.

A wildfire in a coastal community may consist of one overgrown plot where a house has yet to be built. At an inland county with a lot of homes build among the trees, a wildfire may describe a three-day event that torches thousands of acres.

In general, burn bans target open-pit fires whether built in the ground with rocks in a ring around it or in a big metal drum. That's because from there a concentrated plume of heated air often can carry smoke and red-hot embers into the air that could land nearby and start a wildfire.

Cookouts with grills, stoves, cookers and smokers are OK as long as someone with the ability to manage the situation is attending the fire at all times, and the cooker is at least three feet away from the woods or piles of dried out foliage.

Summers advises those living in woodsy areas to trim back trees and mow the lawn for at least 30 feet all the way around the home to help prevent a wildfire, should one happen, from reaching the structure.

The decision came after discussions between the Collier County Bureau of Emergency Services, the Florida Forest Service, the Collier County Fire Chiefs’ Association, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, and the National Weather Service.

The Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services said as of April 10 there have been 1,277 wildfire that burned nearly 85,000 acres throughout the state.

The South Florida Water Management District also has a burn ban in place for its lands in Lee, Collier and Hendry counties due to “dry conditions and the imminent danger of wildfires in the region.”

The ban prohibits, among other types of burning, even small campfires in the ground surrounded by rocks.

The Board of County Commissioners in Charlotte County issued a burn ban in the second week of April due “to the potential of extreme fire behavior due to current drought conditions in Charlotte County and throughout Southwest Florida,” commissioners wrote in their burn ban ordinance. “The dry and windy conditions mean fires could start with little effort, burn with greater intensity and spread quickly.”

In most counties with burn bans, people can still purchase legal fireworks such as sparklers, they just can’t use them right now.

Whether fireworks shows by the professionals, like those celebrating the Fourth of July, are going to be allowed will be decided on a case-by-case basis depending on conditions closer to the event.

Violating a burn bans can be expensive. In Charlotte County, fines for doing so can reach as high as $15,000.

The bans will stay in place as long as drought conditions persist.

Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to accelerate change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health. 

If you’re interested in receiving a monthly environmental newsletter from WGCU, sign up for the Green Flash today.

Copyright 2022 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

Tom Bayles
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