Preventing intense fires starts with educating kids, teenagers

Reporter: Erika Jackson
Published: Updated:
The Lee Williams Road fire in the Picayune Strand State Forest destroyed four Collier County homes in March. Fires continue to menace the county, including a 400-acre blaze in the Big Cypress National Preserver known as the Cowbell Fire (File photo)

Intense fires may become a more common sight this time of the year. They spark faster and burn longer in the dry heat. With no lightning, they are likely started by people. That is why Charlotte County has a program for kids and teenagers to teach them about fire safety.

“Just straight over that way is where I saw the fire,” Betty Terry said.

Terry stood near her kitchen window when she saw smoke coming from Ann Dever Park Sunday afternoon. She said minutes before seeing the smoke and the flames, she saw several young people walking along the edge of the park.

“It was very small,” Terry said. “Then, within five minutes, it spread very quickly.”

Investigators with the Florida Forest Service are trying to determine what started the fire and whether someone in the park did it.

The biggest challenge the Florida Forest Service has when fighting a fire is contamination. Fire crews work hard to get the fire under control, but their footprints and equipment may ruin evidence.

Michael Clements, the battalion chief at Charlotte County Fire, said fire prevention starts with education.

“It can affect peoples houses and peoples cars,” Clements said. “And how quick a fire can escalate from a little tiny fire.”

Courts will recommend some young fire-starters took part in Charlotte’s Juvenile Fire Setters Intervention Program. Clements, who leads the six-week course, said some parents would also enroll their kids.

The program seeks to teach children about the dangers to prevent one more fire from burning through our neighbor.

“I also show them how it can affect us responding to other calls from brushfires,” Clements said, “because we have to have multiple fire engines at the brushfire.”

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