Fire danger remains high in SWFL

Published: May 21, 2021 5:33 PM EDT
Updated: May 21, 2021 10:27 PM EDT

After his community was evacuated, homes were damaged and cars burned out, one Southwest Florida man is preparing for the dry days ahead.

Residents of Golden Gate Estates in Collier County know all about fires, big and small, like the two-acre one that was quickly contained early Friday.

But even the smallest brush fire can quickly grow out of control. That’s why this time of year, fire crews keep extra eyes on fires because of dry and windy conditions.

No one wants a repeat of last year, including Joachim McDonald, who had to evacuate when a brush fire last May chewed up 9,000 acres and destroyed more than a dozen homes.

“We started to put everything in the car, and by the time we left, it was on both sides already, we had to drive right through it.”

McDonald said “everything was burnt,” and the flames came within inches of their home. So, when a brush fire popped up on the same street Friday morning, the memories came flooding back.

“When I saw the helicopter with the bucket, I said, ‘Oh no, here we go again,'” McDonald said.

It worried him.

“I told my wife, let’s get ready just in case we have to leave again.”

Greater Naples Fire Chief Forrest Campbell said the drop in humidity, high winds and a lack of rain create the perfect recipe for fire.

“That’s a red flag for us. We know that anytime it gets like this, it takes one spark, and we know we are going to have our hands full with trying to keep it in check.”

He said everyone needs to be on high alert this time of year.

“No burning. Wait ’til we start getting these rains on a continual basis and start saturating the ground,” Campbell said.

“The biggest thing that helps people is we have a defendable space around their house. We have to be able to get our brush trucks around the house and protect their house, let the fire burn around all the surrounding brush.”

Greater Naples Fire said almost two acres of brush were damaged in the fire they were called to around 5 a.m. Friday. Because of Friday’s windy conditions, they waited until it stopped smoking to clear the scene.

Florida Forest Service: Current wildfire conditions; safety tips and how to prepare