Wind fuels brush fire concerns

Published: Friday, January 20, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 19, 2006 at 11:23 p.m.
All it takes is a tiny ember from burning yard debris to create a devastating brush fire.
And with the cold, dry weather and strong winds North Central Florida has been feeling in recent days, there are more chances for brush fires to spread quickly. That could've been the case Monday when a yard debris burn got out of control and engulfed a LaCrosse man's home and three cars, said Ludie Ehlers, a spokeswoman for the Florida Division of Forestry.
On Thursday, a wildfire caused by escaped trash debris being burned in someone's yard scorched more than eight acres near Fanning Springs in Gilchrist County, Ehlers said.
With fire season in its peak this month and humidity levels hovering dangerously low, people need to be careful when burning yard debris to prevent a disastrous brush fire, Ehlers said.
So far this month, there have been 10 wildfires in the Waccasassa District, which includes Alachua, Levy, Gilchrist, Putnam and Marion counties, according to the DOF.
"With the gusty winds, low humidity and all the hard freezes lately, it's created an abundant amount of dry, dead fuels," Ehlers said. "Our big concern is that (debris) fires are going to get away from people and the winds will pick them up and they'll race across the brush."
In the last six years, 528 brush fires have charred more than 15,600 acres in the area, according to the DOF. Of those fires, more than 100 were a result of debris burns.
The National Weather Service in Jacksonville had issued a red flag warning effective until Thursday night for fire weather conditions, forecaster Angie Enyedi said. A combination of three factors - relative humidity, wind and the dispersion index value - are what forecasters watch when issuing such warnings, Enyedi said.
When the relative humidity drops to 35 percent or less for four hours in combination with wind speeds of 15 mph or more and a dispersion index value, or the rate it takes smoke to disperse, of greater than 75, that creates favorable fire weather conditions, Enyedi said.
Since brush fires can happen anytime, anywhere, Ehlers suggests making your home as "fire-wise" as possible. Ehlers said people should create a "defensible space" of 30 feet around their homes by cleaning debris from their roof and gutters, pruning tree limbs and bushes 6 feet to 10 feet from the home and cleaning out dead leaves and grass.
"You can also install a fire-resistant roof, less flammable landscaping and noncombustible exterior siding," Ehlers said.
She added that people with decks or who live in mobile homes should have a screen installed blocking embers from getting underneath the structures and starting a fire beneath the home.
While anyone can burn small yard debris, authorization from the DOF is needed to burn yard debris larger than 8 feet in diameter, Ehlers said. The state requires that all debris, authorized or not, must be burned at least 25 feet from their home, 150 feet from any other occupied building, 25 feet from surrounding wooded areas and 50 feet from public roads, Ehlers said.
Deborah Ball can be reached at (352) 338-3109 or

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