Agriculture Press Release

December 10, 1998

Crawford Warns Residents About Wildfire Threat

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford has issued a precautionary wildfire warning to residents due to growing drought index levels across the state.

"We already are recording drought indexes in the mid-500s and higher in many areas," Crawford said. "These elevated readings trouble me. Im urging everyone to prepare their homes against wildfire now."

The Keetch-Byran Drought Index ranges from 0 to 800, with 800 being a "desert-like" condition. This past summer the drought index ranged from 730-798 across much of Florida.

"Im hoping we get some much-needed rain this weekend," Crawford said. "Our friends in Georgia and other states are reporting even higher drought indices and increasing wildfire activity. We could be next."

According to state forestry officials, dry conditions are expected to dominate throughout the state, particularly the southern half of the peninsula. The above-normal temperatures and reduced rainfall associated with La Nina indicate strong potential for an active wildfire season. The possible addition of freeze-dried fuels may increase this potential in the later part of the season.

Florida was rocked with more than 2,300 wildfires that burned 500,000 acres from late May through mid-July. The fires destroyed or damaged 337 structures and caused major disruptions in the lives of hundreds of thousands of citizens.

Crawford recommends a number of steps to make homes fire-resistant. These include:

  • Create a firebreak or "defensible space" of at least 30 feet around a house whenever practical.
  • Remove branches from the lower six feet of tall trees near a house to keep ground fires from spreading into the tops of trees.
  • Keep roofs and rain gutters clear of leaves, pine needles, and other flammable debris.
  • Keep enough garden hose on hand to reach all parts of a house.
  • Maintain landscaping free of dead and dying plants.
  • Locate all combustibles, i.e., firewood, picnic tables, gas grills, etc., away from structures.

"For very little money and little effort rural and suburban homeowners can do much to safeguard their family and property from wildfire," Crawford said.

Rural landowners also can reduce the likelihood of wildfire destroying their property by taking some additional steps, according to Crawford. These include:

  • Constructing firebreaks around property perimeter and those areas where valuable assets are located.
  • Where and when feasible, conduct control burns on a three- to five-year rotation.
  • Keep adequate firefighting and water resources available on the property.

"Wildfire protection is everyones responsibility," Crawford added.

For additional information about wildfire prevention, control burning and other strategies homeowners can employ, contact a local Division of Forestry field office.


For more information:

Liz Compton: (850) 488-3022
Larry Wood: (850) 488-6111

Return to Agriculture News and Press Releases