Trying to move fast as a brush fire crept dangerously close to his Pasco County home, 77-year-old Tom Newman did what he saw decades ago at his sister's California home.
He grabbed a hose and got up on the roof.
"That's the first thing I thought of — to wet the roof down," said Newman, who stayed up there two hours. "Those cinders were flying, and them things will burn anything."
It's an understandable reaction, but it won't protect your home, said Gerry LaCavera of the state's forestry division
With a severe drought, the prospect of an historic fire season and so many people living near woods, firefighters and foresters are scrambling to get people to treat wildfire season like hurricane season: Prepare for the worst.
Peak wildfire season runs from March to May, but Florida already has seen more than 560 wildfires this year, compared to 430 for all of 2008.
"Why don't people take the steps to prepare? They think, 'Oh, that's what insurance is for,' or 'It can't happen to me,' " LaCavera said.
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Lightning caused only one of the fires recorded this year, state forestry records show. The rest? People.
Children playing with lighters, people burning yard waste, arson — those are the top three causes of brush fires that destroy wildlife and threaten homes. Then there are things you don't expect, but are very common, like sparks from faulty car brakes and trains. Campfires that look like they're out, but aren't. Flicked cigarette butts. And one case of jilted teens burning love letters.
"The big thing is, people don't understand fire," said Hernando County assistant fire chief Frank DeFrancesco. "They think of it in terms of cooking, entertainment, warmth. They don't realize that fire almost lives on its own, breathes on its own and grows on its own."
Most Floridians know the basics of preparing for hurricanes — three days of food and water, boarding windows, bringing lawn furniture inside. Lesser known, but just as simple, are the steps to protect homes from wildfires: Cleaning the roof and gutters, clearing flammable materials within 30 feet of the house, using water- or stone-based landscaping.
Those state forestry numbers of 560-plus incidents, by the way, are low, according to DeFrancesco. Many times, local fire rescue departments don't even report their brush fires to state forestry firefighters.
DeFrancesco said local firefighters are battling one to two brush fires every day. That's just in his county.
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Tom and Jo Newman said they do as much as they can to prevent fires — clearing the roof, making sure the gutters and lawn are clear.
But when it comes to brush fires, they say many things are out of their control.
People need to be more aware of the things that can start fires, Newman said, especially considering this year's increased risk.
"You just have to wait and see, that's all I know," he said. "You can't control people. It just kind of puts you on edge."
Emily Nipps can be reached at (727) 893-8452 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Kameel Stanley can be reached at email@example.com.