Brush fire danger looms for SWFL after Irma

The thought of another active brush fire season has Lehigh Acres resident Patricia Rodgers ready to move away.

“Well I’m gonna pack my stuff up and put it in storage and leave,” she said. “I’m sorry, I can’t stay here. I have a mother in a wheelchair and we can’t stay here. I’m afraid.”

Concern is growing over brush fires because of what Irma left behind. The Florida Forest Service is urging residents to clear lawns of debris and dead brush to tamp down the risk — one that could be elevated this winter.

MORE: Another wildfire joins the siege across Southern California

“We’re expecting drier and warmer weather (than normal), so that can be an issue with hurricane debris down,” said Clark Ryals, a forest service senior forester.

Rodgers and her neighbors were hard-hit last year, as the most active brush fire season since 2011 forced evacuations, municipal burn bans and a state of emergency declaration from Gov. Rick Scott.

The peak time for brush fires doesn’t start until February, but preparation can begin now.

“The biggest thing is making sure we have 30 feet of defendable space that’s around your home,” Ryals said. “That’s really important (so) we can get our fire trucks, we can get water crews in there to protect your home.

The National Fire Protection Association provides these tips for homeowners:

  • Clear leaves and other debris from gutters, eaves, porches and decks.
  • Remove dead vegetation and other items from under your deck or porch, and within 10 feet of the house.
  • Screen or box-in areas below patios and decks with wire mesh to prevent debris and combustible materials from accumulating.
  • Remove flammable materials, like wood or propane tanks, within 30 feet of your home’s foundation and outbuildings, including garages and sheds. If it can catch fire, don’t let it touch your house, deck or porch.
  • Prune trees so the lowest branches are 6 to 10 feet from the ground.
  • Keep your lawn hydrated and maintained. If it’s brown, cut it down. Dry grass and shrubs are fuel for wildfire.
  • Don’t let debris and lawn cuttings linger. Dispose of these items quickly to reduce fuel for fire.
  • Inspect shingles or roof tiles. Replace or repair those that are loose or missing to prevent ember penetration.
  • Cover exterior attic vents with metal wire mesh no larger than an eighth of an inch to prevent sparks from entering the home.
  • Enclose under-eave and soffit vents or screens with metal mesh to embers from getting inside.
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