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Dry season in Florida: Clear out dead vegetation to prevent wildfires

Posted at 7:34 PM, Nov 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-14 04:13:52-05

The California wildfires continue to rage.

The fire in northern California has become the deadliest and most destructive in state history.

Right now, Florida is in its own dry season and the Florida Forest Service is in full preparation mode.

The FFS usually sends firefighters to help in California but crews are staying here to help us prepare for our own wildfires. 

And it's a collective effort. Fire-wise communities across the Treasure Coast are already clearing dead vegetation out as early as possible.

In West Palm Beach, Kathy Curley watched the rain pour outside her home on Tuesday -- her thoughts with her niece thousands of miles away in California. She had evacuated from one of the naval bases threatened by the fires.

“She’s been out of her house for about a week. Very scary," said Curley.

It’s a reminder of the time Curley could have lost her own home a few months ago.

“I've never been in anything like that," she said.

She was part of two neighborhoods evacuated during a massive brushfire near Southern Boulevard and Benoist Farms Road in West Palm Beach in April.

“The fire was right across the street from our house," Curley said.

At the fire's onset, she watched fire crews scatter throughout her neighborhood with trucks and ladders. Then a firefighter walked up to her home and told her family to evacuate immediately.

"I ran in the house and grabbed the dogs and my keys," Curley said, thinking she could drive out.

But fire trucks had active fire hoses in place and no one could drive down her street. She had to evacuate on foot through the smoke.

"It's scary," Curley said. “They give you less than five minutes to gather up stuff and leave.”

Florida's dry season started in mid-October. Luckily, we’ve seen plenty of rain recently to keep fires at bay.

“We did have a little bit of dry period about two weeks ago, where it got to where we were actually running little fires along the highway," said Melissa Yunas with the Florida Forest Service.

However, conditions will change as we head further into the dry season.

“What’s going to happen is we’re going to start seeing cold fronts come in. That afternoon sun is going to start heating this up," she said, pointing to dry, dead leaves. "And within a week or two, we should be re-experiencing more wildfires."

Yunas said now is the time for people to start cleaning dry vegetation off their property.

"Remove the pine needles. Remove the dead sticks and twigs, and you won’t catch the green stuff on fire," she said.

Some starting points include clearing pine needles and dry leaves from your roof and gutters and clear any overhanging branches from your roof. In the trees, remove dead hanging branches and hanging vines.

On the ground, pay attention to the cabbage palm trees, which have dead palm fronds covering the entire trunk down to the bottom.

“These dead palm fronds -- remove these," said Yunas, adding that you should scrape those dead fronds about halfway up the tree. "Clean out the dead vegetation that is stuck inside.” 

Yunas said green grass does not burn. If you can, keep a 30-foot space of green grass out from your home. If you can't keep up with watering it, try using rocks.

“If you have a nice green grass by for around your house, then you have a defensible space area," she said.

Curley is hopeful for a better experience this dry season.

“I hope we get a lot of rain this year and I hope we don’t go through anything like that," she said.