OKEECHOBEE — Saturday, May 4, was National Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, and the Florida Forest Service Okeechobee District office released a report on the 2019 tally of wildfires so far in part of the region.
Rangers also were issuing advice to the public on how to protect their homes, families and property if they live near natural areas.
The numbers for Glades County were as follows: in January, seven wildfires, 1,600 acres; February, two fires, 657 acres; March, three, 95; and April, one, 5. In Okeechobee County there were eight fires in January burning 117 acres; February, six, 82; March, two, 18; and April eight, 41.
All residents living near natural areas (forests, grasslands or prairies) were being advised to prepare their home and family before a wildfire occurs.
For the 2019 National Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, fire officials were asking for the public’s aid in bringing awareness of this threat to their communities.
“The wetter summer and winter aided in the growth of vegetation, which now has produced additional fuel for a wildfire, as the vegetation cures with the drier weather,” explains Forest Area Supervisor Joe deBree with the Florida Forest Service. “Even with nature’s threat, it is possible to minimize the homeowner’s risk by taking protective measures, such as watering your yard regularly and removing dead branches or leaves near or on your home.”
State firefighters also advise residents to create a 30-foot safety zone around their home by eliminating flash fuels, removing branches overhanging the roof, and thinning overgrown vegetation. Other steps include screening or boxing in areas below patios and decks with wire screening no larger than 1/8-inch mesh to help keep embers out during a fire. It’s most important to keep eaves troughs and gutters clear of leaves and any combustible debris.
As a community, neighbors can develop a phone tree, webpage or notification system that can be used to alert everyone about a fire or evacuation, the FFS suggests. Help an elderly relative or neighbor enter emergency numbers and the names of close relatives into their cellphones; and in large font post their phone number and street address above their landline, so it can easily be seen when providing information to an emergency dispatcher. Make sure all your street signs are constructed with non-flammable material and easy to read.