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Dry Weather Brings Out Wildfire Warnings


For many, this is the ideal time of year and the ideal weather to go out and burn yard debris. The Florida Forest Service is warning residents planning such burns to use extreme caution.

No rain, dropping humidity and a rising fire danger level are in the forecast for the time being in the three Blackwater counties: Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa.

“It’s going to be another dry week it looks like,” said Joe Zwierzchowski, Blackwater’s Information Officer. “We’ve got some potential for rain the middle of this week, but it’s going to be spotty at best.”

Since January 1, over 1,600 wildfires across Florida have charred more than 87,000 acres. Firefighters from Blackwater have battled 108 blazes this year, totaling more than 3,600 acres – including one earlier this month. Measures to keep yard debris fires under control are basically common sense. Zwierzchowski says in this case, they’re in the form of rules and regulations.

“You’ve got to be 25 ft. from any other brush or combustible structures. You have to be 25 ft. away from your house, and 150 ft. from any other occupied building,” said Zwierzchowski. “You also have to be 50 ft. away from the paved roads. It limits a lot of the areas for burning, but we want folks to be careful and mindful that it’s drying up out there.”

There’s no burn ban in effect for the Blackwater District – individual counties issue those.  Burn hours are eight a-m until one hour before sunset every day. And it’s yard debris only. Burning items such as household garbage, treated lumber, plastic, rubber, pesticides and paint is prohibited.

Residents are also urged to be careful with campfires – which carry another set of safety rules – and outdoor barbecue grills. Zwierzchowski says keeping a yard fire under control can involve no more than a charged garden hose, a shovel – and your undivided attention.

Once a fire gets out of control, then Blackwater and local fire departments are the next step. And it could also take a bite out of your wallet.

“Based on the circumstances, the homeowner, the landowner, or the person in charge of that fire can be financially responsible for our equipment time,” Zwierzchowski said. “Heaven forbid it gets really bad and we have to start bringing out our helicopter. We’ve seen these bills get into the thousands of dollars very, very quickly.”

One way to reduce a home’s wildfire risk is to create 30 ft. of defensible space around the home. Also, clear out fire-prone plants and materials – such as wood for the fireplace -- within 3 ft. of the structure. Blackwater’s Joe Zwierzchowski says very few homes are direct hits by a wildfire.

Families are encouraged to develop a wildfire escape plan, including two evacuation routes and a list of items to take with you. More information can be found at floridaforestservice.com.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.