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Brush / Wildland Fires
Grass fires (also called brush or wildland fires) were only a minor concern until the boom of westward development brought new communities close to the areas that burn with frequency during the dry season.
It is understandable for residents to be concerned when they see stacks of smoke rising from the earth in the “too-close-for-comfort” range surrounding their homes. The smoke is not only a nuisance for the whole county, causing traffic jams and poor breathing conditions, it can also be quite menacing to those who live in its proximity.
While it may often seem like little is being done to stop these fires, it helps to have a little understanding of how these fires are handled. Grass fires present some unique challenges for firefighters and therefore require some creative actions. While traditional structure fires are fought, brush fires are actually managed until Mother Nature can extinguish them completely on her own.
It is not often effective or even possible to attempt to put these fires out with water. It seems unusual, but when it comes to brush fires, it is usually most effective to “fight fire with fire.” Literally! In order to control wildfires, firefighters will start “counter fires.” These are strategically placed, intentional and controlled fires, which burn up the fuel (dry vegetation) in the expected path of the wildfire, creating a wall of empty space. Once the wildfire reaches this “wall,” it has nowhere to go, so it just burns out.
The idea of letting these fires burn out in a controlled manner comes from a combination of factors. First of all, these fires usually originate in areas that are completely inaccessible to firefighting apparatus and far from water hydrants. Water has to be shuttled in by trucks and used very carefully. Also, brush fires are incredibly dangerous for firefighters due to their remote locations, difficult terrain and continually shifting wind conditions.
Helicopters can be used to drop water onto the fires, but this often proves ineffective because many areas are missed causing the fire to move in unpredictable ways. Helicopters are reserved for emergency protection of lives and property if the fires move in too close to inhabited areas.
In reality, these fires are a natural and necessary occurrence. They are a vital part of the ecological health of Florida’s wild land areas. Brush fires burn off old and decaying vegetation to make room for new growth. As long as there are no lives or properties directly threatened by the fires, they are allowed to burn under the watchful eye of the Division of Forestry, who is the lead agency for wild land fires in Florida. When these fires get out of control and creep too close to populated areas, local fire departments join forces with the Division of Forestry to protect residents and their properties.
When to call 911
If you are able to see flames from your home, there is a good chance that the fire is too close. Call 911 to report the fire. Make sure you are able to describe the location using whatever information you have, such as the closest known cross streets or landmarks that can help identify the area. Smokey air alone is not a reason to call 911 unless you are having difficulty breathing. For mild smoke conditions, keep windows and doors closed and run air conditioners on “recycled air” mode. If your property is surrounded by wild land, you can help prevent fires by keeping your property irrigated and well groomed, and encourage your neighbors to do the same!
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