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Unauthorized Fire Burns Put Public At Risk: Alert The Forest Service

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

The threat of wildfire has gone down a bit because of the recent wet weather, but land and homeowners still need to get authorization for many controlled burns on their property.

Last week a fire from a residential burn pit sparked a grassfire that eventually left a family on Quiet Creek Road in Milton homeless. Joe Zwierzchowski, the Wildfire Mitigation Specialist for the Florida Forest Service Blackwater District, reminds people that fires can have very real consequences.

Zwierzchowski says any size fire can get out of hand if it’s not being monitored. Getting the proper authorization beforehand is an important safety step and may save you a fine.  There are specific types of burns that require authorization:

  • Acreage Burns - if you're planning on burning off some pasture or grasslands or if you're doing a prescribed burn on some private forest lands.
  • Pile Burns - if you have a pile of some land clearing or yard debris and it's greater than 8 feet in diameter.

This is not about money. There is no fee for getting a burn authorization, it simply helps officials save time, and perhaps lives, in the event of a wildfire. If fire officials know about an authorized burn, they will have an easier time tracking down wild fires.
The Forest Service conducts routine patrols throughout the district from the air to make sure they are aware of all burns going on in the area: authorized or otherwise. They have a fixed wing aircraft that goes up looking for smoke. If they see a burn and there is no authorization on record, they will send forest rangers to the area to assess the situation. This could end up with the land owner getting a tickets.

Joe Zwierzchowski reminds homeowners that getting an authorization is not required for every burn of their property. If you are burning a pile a yard debris and it's 8 feet or less in diameter you do not need authorization. There are rules however.  The fire must be at least 150 feet from other homes, 50 feet from paved public roads, 25 feet from your own home and 25 feet from wild lands, brush or other flammable structures.

While not every fire needs an authorization, they all need constant monitoring and control for safety.

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.