Wooded Home Lots Can Pose Fire Dangers, UF Experts Say

Chris Eversole

Martha Monroe mcmo@gnv.ifas.ufl.edu, (352) 846-0891
Alan Long ajl@gnv.ifas.ufl.edu, (352) 846-0878

GAINESVILLE—Some Floridians are creating fire risks by nestling their homes in wooded landscapes, University of Florida forestry experts say.

“There are many good reasons to have trees and native shrubs near your home,” said Martha Monroe, an environmental educator with the School of Forest Resources and Conservation in UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

“A wooded home setting can be idyllic much of the year, and it can provide shade and food for wildlife. But when there’s little rain and the risk of wildfires mounts, these trees and shrubs could be a problem,” she said. “It’s crucial to maintain your landscape in a way that discourages fire from spreading from adjacent land to your home. If we want to live in the forest, we must adapt to fire.”

Alan Long, a UF expert on forestry operations, said that people who live in locations at risk of wildfire should choose fire-resistant material when building a home or they should add the material later.

“Homes constructed with brick, block or cement walls and with asphalt, tile or metal roofs are much less flammable than those made with wood siding or shingles,” he said. “Vinyl siding can shrink or melt under high temperatures.”

Monroe and Long said that larger trees, especially hardwoods, are relatively resistant to fire, while saw palmetto, juniper, wax myrtle and small pines burn easily and should be either removed or trimmed and maintained at low densities around homes.

The UF experts offered the following tips on reducing fire risks for homes on or adjacent to wooded lots in fire-prone areas, particularly those with thick shrubs and dense saw palmetto.

1.Maintain landscape clearings around your home that are large enough for fire trucks to drive in and turn around.

2.Remove dead vegetation and thick accumulations of pine needles. Leave a light layer of leaves and needles, however, since they provide mulch cover that helps preserve soil and plant moisture during dry periods.

3.Put in gravel patios, walkways and driveways or build fences and walls that can serve as fire breaks.

4.Prune your trees so that their crowns are at least 15 feet apart and their branches are at least 15 feet off the ground.

5.Remove small pine trees, vines and shrubs that are under larger trees or are clumped together so that a ground fire cannot easily climb to the canopy.

Monroe and Long also gave other pointers on protecting your home.

1.Remove pine needles and other flammable debris from your roof and gutters and from under decks and floors.

2.Stack firewood at least 50 feet from your home.

3.Store flammable materials and liquids in approved safety containers in a safe location 30 to 50 feet from your home.

4.Have a water source available for firefighters. You might want to store rain water from your roof in a cistern or share an emergency storage tank that holds at least 2,500 gallons with your neighbors.

The UF specialists also made suggestions about reducing the risk of fires caused by carelessness.

1.Burn trash only in ways that are allowed under state open burning regulations. These regulations are available through county offices of the Florida Division of Forestry and UF’s Cooperative Extension Service.

2.Provide a 10-foot space around propane tanks and barbecues.

3.Bury ashes from stoves, fireplaces and grills. Even though ashes may seem to be cold, hot embers in them may still start fires.

4.Inspect your chimneys every year and cover them with spark-arresting screens.

5.Quickly report any fire you see starting, then try to extinguish it, if you can do so safely.

UF is cooperating with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Division of Forestry, the Florida Farm Bureau and the Nature Conservancy in providing information about wild fires, prescribed burning and coping with fire in the Florida landscape. More information can be obtained at www.prescribed-fire.org and www.sfrc.ufl. edu/Extension/ExtInfo.html.

Another Web site, http://IT.ifas.ufl.edu/FDM/, provides information about coping with the financial and emotional stress caused by wildfires and dry conditions affecting agriculture.

If you’re interested in obtaining advice and printed publications, contact the Extension Service office in your county, said Carol Lehtola, UF’s agricultural safety specialist and co-chairman of the Florida Disaster Management Task Force.