Preventing wildfires as SWFL weather gets warmer, drier

Reporter: Emma Heaton Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:
Southwest Florida wildfire. Credit: WINK News

With Southwest Florida’s current lack of rain and its increasingly warm temperatures, the threat of wildfires grows. More than 80% of U.S. wildfires are caused by people, but there are ways you can help prevent them.

Until we start to see heavy summer rain around August and September, we’re dealing with the perfect environment for wildfires: hot and dry, and with plenty of trees, shrubs and other potential fuel around. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions says 15 forest fires in the U.S. have caused at least a billion dollars in damage each since 2000.

Katie Heck, public information officer for the Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District, spoke to WINK News about the majority of fires her district responds to.

“The majority of fires that we see, especially brushfires, they start from somebody doing something,” Heck said. “People throwing a cigarette out of their vehicle, parking a hot car in tall, dry grass—that’s one that we see frequently that starts—but then, also, just having an outdoor fire. You know, barbecuing outside and not really covering that fire, so embers fly away. A hot ember can fly a mile away from where you’re having a fire and start a fire somewhere else.”

In 2021, we saw 167 brush fires in Lehigh Acres alone. So far in 2022, there have already been 26. Lehigh Acres firefighters responded to a brush fire Wednesday morning and had to dig a dog out of where it was hiding from the flames. Thankfully, the fire was small, but there is a variety of reasons it could have started and a variety of ways you can prevent fires like that from happening to begin with.

“A lot of that just depends on the wind,” Heck said. “The weather condition, what type of area is burning. You know, here, especially in Lehigh Acres, we have a lot of dense brush. A lot of vacant lots and intermixed with that are a lot of family homes, so a lot of times these brushfires start and immediately put homes in danger… it’s just really important that people remember something as simple as throwing a cigarette out of their vehicle could actually take someone’s home from them.”

While the normal dry season goes from mid-October through the end of May, Heck says we could see brushfires throughout the summer as conditions get hotter.

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