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Here's What to Do if a Wildfire Threatens Your Home

The National Fire Protection Association offers some tips for protecting your home.

The March 29 10-acre brush fire that came perilously close to Bevis Elementary School and neighborhoods in FishHawk Ranch serves as a reminder to Brandon area residents to be prepared for brush fires, especially during times of drought.

Conditions in Florida currently are ripe for brush fires due to the below-normal rainfall and the cold, dry winter.

As a result, the Florida Division of Emergency Management is encouraging all Floridians to take the opportunity to update wildfire emergency plans and learn how best to protect themselves and their property from the danger of wildfires.

“Wildfires can occur year round in Florida,” said Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Bryan W. Koon. “Have a current emergency plan and be proactive in your efforts to keep your home and family safe during a fire emergency by taking necessary precautions.”

Typically, Florida experiences more than 4,600 wildfires, burning nearly 110,000 acres of land a year, making Florida No. 2 in the country for number of wildfires.

This year, Florida has faced more than 1,000 wildfires on 20,430 acres. The three leading causes of wildfires are arson, uncontrolled yard debris or trash fires, and lightning. However, in the case of the FishHawk Ranch fire, fire marshals ruled the cause as teens lighting off fireworks.

The National Fire Protection Association’s Firewise program encourages homeowners to use prevention measures to decrease fire threats around their homes, including planting fire-resistant vegetation, trimming trees to a height of 15 feet near structures, clearing brush up to 30 feet around your home, and keeping roofs and gutters clear of debris, such as leaves and pine needles.

Along with Firewise prevention measures, officials urge residents to follow these guidelines set by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service’s Florida Forest Service:

  • Check with local city or county officials to see if there are any burn restrictions in the area.
  • Keep fires contained to an 8-foot diameter pile or noncombustible barrel. Fires must be at least 25 feet from forests, 25 feet from homes, 50 feet from paved public roads and 150 feet from other occupied buildings.
  • Obtain a burning authorization from the Florida Forest Service for piles larger than 8 feet in diameter. Call your local Florida Forest Service field office.
  • Check the weather daily and don’t burn on windy days or when the humidity is below 30 percent.
  • Never leave a fire unattended, and make sure it is completely out before leaving.
  • Keep a shovel and water hose handy in case the small fire starts to escape containment.
  • Report suspicious activity to the Arson Alert Hotline at 1-800-342-5869.

If you see a wildfire, call 911. Don’t assume someone else already has. Have a disaster kit and emergency plan ready.

If a wildfire is threatening your home:

  • Immediately evacuate pets, the young and anyone with medical or physical limitations.
  • Wear protective clothing made of cotton that covers exposed skin. Do not wear nylon or similar fabrics.
  • Clear flammable items from around the house, including woodpiles, lawn furniture, barbecue grills, tarp coverings, etc. Move them at least 30 feet from the area around the home.
  • Close and protect openings. Close all doors inside the house to prevent drafts. Open the damper on a fireplace but close the fireplace screen. Close outside attic, eave and basement vents, windows, doors, pet doors, etc. Remove flammable drapes and curtains. Close all shutters, blinds or heavy, noncombustible window coverings to reduce radiant heat.
  • Shut off any natural gas, propane or fuel oil supplies at the source.
  • Connect garden hoses and fill any pools, hot tubs, garbage cans, tubs or other large containers with water. Firefighters may take advantage of these resources if near your home.
  • Back your car into the driveway and roll up the windows.
  • Disconnect any automatic garage door openers so doors can still be opened by hand if the power fails. Close all garage doors.
  • Place valuable papers, mementos and anything you can’t live without inside the car, ready for quick departure. Any remaining pets should also be put in the car.

Kids can learn how to protect their family’s home and stay safe from a wildfire with the Firewise Simulator at kidsgetaplan.com.

See the Florida Forest Service's fire danger index map.

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