State officials highlight Wildfire Awareness Week

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Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and the Florida Forest Service on Monday urged residents to be wildfire ready by highlighting Florida Wildfire Awareness Week, April 5-11.

Since January, nearly 600 wildfires have burned more than 7,700 acres. Last year, a total of 1,969 wildfires burned 44,152 acres across the state. The wildfire threat in the Florida Panhandle is substantially greater than normal, given the nearly 3 million acres of trees that were broken, uprooted, or blown over by Hurricane Michael in Oct. 2018.

“With nearly half of our state covered in forests, Floridians must be aware of the dangers of wildfire,” said Fried. “Wildfire Awareness Week is an important reminder of the devastating effects wildfires can have on people and natural resources. It’s more important than ever to be aware of the risks, exercise caution, and follow the law – these steps will ensure the safety of your family, your community, and our wildland firefighters.”

“With below-average rainfall and above-average temperatures predicted statewide this spring, the wildfire risk is elevated as we approach the peak of Florida’s year-round wildfire season,” said State Forester Erin Albury, director of the Florida Forest Service. “I urge all residents to be cautious and understand their role in preventing wildfires to ensure the safety of their families and communities as well as our firefighters.”

While Florida is the lightning capital of the United States, the leading cause of wildfires in the state is people, specifically escaped yard waste burns and unauthorized burns. The Florida Forest Service is encouraging the public to know Florida’s outdoor burning laws, learn to burn yard waste safely and use extreme caution with all fire.

Burning yard waste does not require an authorization, but residents must follow the law and meet the requirements for their area. Yard waste is considered any vegetative debris such as brush, leaves, tree limbs and palm fronds collected from basic yard maintenance.

Yard Waste Burning Requirements

  • Yard waste must fit in an 8-foot diameter pile or noncombustible container.
  • The fire must be ignited after 8 a.m. CT/9 a.m. ET and extinguished one hour before sunset.
  • The fire must be 25 feet from your home, woods, brush or other combustible structures.
  • The fire must be 50 feet from a paved public road.
  • The fire must be 150 feet from other occupied buildings.

Yard Waste Burning Reminders

  • Ensure there are no local burning restrictions; check homeowners association, city and county ordinances.
  • Consider weather conditions
  • Never burn on windy days or when humidity is below 30 percent.
  • Refrain from burning during dry weather.
  • Avoid burning during periods of high fire danger.
  • Refrain from burning immediately following a storm and seek alternative removal methods.

Prepare the surrounding area

  • Clear an area down to bare soil around the pile to prevent the fire from spreading.
  • If using a noncombustible container, cover with wire mesh to keep embers from starting new fires.
  • Always keep a shovel and water hose nearby.
  • Never leave a fire unattended.

If your fire escapes, you may be liable for costs of suppression and damage to the property of others.

Piles greater than 8 feet in diameter require an authorization from the Florida Forest Service as well as suppression equipment and additional restrictions.

Burning household garbage is illegal. This includes paper products, treated lumber, plastics, rubber, tires, pesticides, paint and aerosol containers. Only burn yard waste.

Florida Wildfire Awareness Week was established in recognition of Florida’s devastating 1998 wildfire season, when more than half a million acres burned, and 337 structures were damaged or destroyed by wildfires. Floridians and visitors alike are urged to protect their lives, homes and communities by being wildfire ready. To view current wildfire conditions and activity, visit www.FDACS.gov/CurrentWildfires.

The Florida Forest Service, a division of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, manages more than 1 million acres of state forests and provides forest management assistance on more than 17 million acres of private and community forests. The Florida Forest Service is also responsible for protecting homes, forestland and natural resources from the devastating effects of wildfire on more than 26 million acres.

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