Lack of rain and possible lightning increases brush fire risk

Published: May 31, 2021 5:52 PM EDT
Updated: May 31, 2021 10:37 PM EDT

Lightning is one of the threats that could spark a brush fire. But also the lack of rain in recent weeks isn’t helping either.

A brush fire in Golden Gate Estates on Monday caused people to evacuate. And that was just one of many fires in Collier County during the holiday weekend.

When it’s dry homeowners in Golden Gate Estates get nervous.

Rebecca Headlees has lived in Golden Gate Estates for three years and she’s already a veteran of brush fires.

“It’s so scary. It’s traumatizing because I have two kids and two dogs and it’s just hard when you have to grab all your stuff and just go,” Headlees said. “We grab what we can and that’s the most we can do.”

This Memorial Day’s fire is her third and it’s her third evacuation.

“I started to get all my stuff, and I started to leave, I start going down the driveway and they said ‘OK you need to go now,'” she said.

This specific fire sparked along 24th Ave SE near DeSoto Blvd in Golden Gate Estates. The WINK News Drought Index Map showsSouthwest Florida is three to seven inches drier than average. Melinda Avni works with Florida Forest Service and says this is concerning.

“It is definitely very dry. It’s drier than normal,” Avni said.

While rainy season has begun, that also brings lightning.

“As the rain comes, so does the lightning. And we need to be very careful right now with anything that omits a spark because of how dry it is and also be cautious in paying attention,” said Avni. “This is that time where we want the rain to hit where the lightning hits, to help keep things even and balanced as possible.”

Avni says slow and steady rain is what we need to dampen these dry conditions.

“We wanted to soak into the soil. So that rain has to get into the soil then filter through the soil, get through that clay layer so it’s going into that underground water table and still filling the soil with enough moisture,” she said.

Avni says we should prepare for brushfires the same way we do for hurricanes. Make sure to have a bag ready to go, just in case you need to evacuate.

For more evacuation information, you can follow either of these links.

A map from Florida Forest Service shows all of the active fires in Southwest Florida.

fire map
Credit: Florida Forest Service

The rainy season has just begun but homeowners are still worried about fires sparking. A homeowner who lives along 24th Ave in Golden Gate Estates, where a fire started this Memorial Day says, they’re already preparing for the next one.

Orlandi Docampo lives in The Estates. “I saw 20 cars going down the street, and I was like, ‘what the heck the fire popped up again,” he said.

Docampo lives on 24th Ave SE and has seen a fire break out right across the street from him for a third time.

“You could see the flames right over the trees right there,” Docampo said. “Those palms you see those in the trees once they light up it’s like gun powder.”

That was not the only Collier County fire that broke out on Monday. There were fires at Mohagany Drive, Cherry Wood Drive and near the Sabal Palm Hiking Trail.

“I keep the trees away from the house and you gotta keep the ground clean,” Docampo said.

With so many fires in the area, those that live here say they’re always prepared.  Andrea Arocho has plenty of experience with brush fires.

“Bags by the door dogs ready, you know just in case we have to jump out,” Arocho said.

While the rainy season has arrived, homes aren’t quite out of the woods yet. Melinda Avni is with the Florida Forest Service.

“As the rain comes, so does the lightning,” she said.

Florida Forest Service says the cause of the 24th Ave SE fire was lightning, which is very common for this time of year.

Luckily, all fires that sparked in Collier County on Monday are now 100% contained and were put out.