How to lower the chances of fire during the dry season after Ian increased fire risk

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A brush fire that has been burning since Wednesday is now about 38 acres in Cape Coral.

Crews are still out there near El Dorado and Southwest 5th Terrace working to put it out.

Now that the dry season is here, consider this: Did Hurricane Ian make it easier for fires to start and spread?

Michael Harris with the Florida Forest Service said everyone can reduce fire risk.

Andrea Schuch with the Cape Coral Fire Department said to start by keeping the grass lean, green, and clean.

“We want you to thin out any sort of vegetation that might be near your home. We want you to clear out any dead debris,” Schuch said.

Cape fire spent the last 24 hours fighting this brush fire behind the German Americal Social Club.

“About 90% of brush fires are human-caused, so it’s something that we really can control ourselves. So as it’s really dry, even something as simple as starting your car on dried grass can cause a spark,” Schuch said.

Brush fires are going to be more difficult to contain for the next two to three years. That is according to Cape Coral’s fire chief and a wildfire specialist from the Florida Forest Service. It’s all thanks to Hurricane Ian.

“You’re going to see, not only fires be more intense, but we’re going to see them spread much further before we have an opportunity to get it put out,” said Cape Coral Fire Chief Ryan Lamb.

We know the Cape Coral brush fire began Wednesday afternoon when someone using a lawnmower hit a piece of metal, which caused a spark and set the wooded area on fire.

What we’re learning now is why containment is a challenge.

“You’ve basically had trees blow down in horizontal, diagonal, and they’re actually propped up against all the vertical trees that are still standing. And you’re almost created a wall, almost a lattice-work of trees for these dozers to have to get through,” said Michael Harris, a wildfire mitigation specialist.

Fallen trees and branches and other debris from the hurricane are also drying out, and that’s adding fuel to the fire.

“All of this vegetation that would normally be growing is now broken, drying out, and adding to the fuel in the forest. You’re going to see more intense fires, more rapid intensification, and much harder time for our crews to get access to actually suppress those fires,” said Lamb.

As we head into the dry season, firefighters know this will be a challenge in many places Hurricane Ian touched, and there’s also a growing danger to firefighters.

“You can almost think of it like Pixy Stix. You pull one of them out, and you can actually have multiple trees come off of that tree that you just pushed and end up falling. They can fall on the dozers; they can fall on firefighters,” said Harris.

This kind of challenge is not something firefighters see every year, but they are prepared.

“Higher response, more heavier equipment, more units to each fire to help counteract the challenges that Ian has produced for us,” Harris said.

Fire crews have a perimeter built around the fire off Pine Island Road, but they’re only saying it’s 90% contained since they can’t reach the center area of the fire with all the debris in the way.

To keep yourself safe, the experts say it’s important to maintain a 30-foot buffer zone around your house so fire crews can get in there and protect your home, and use caution if you’re using machinery outside.

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