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You can help prevent Pinellas brush fires

The possibility of a wildfire in the Brooker Creek Preserve grows each day that drenching rains don't fall. If that possibility alone isn't enough to spark action by residents and local governments, then the words of officials who watch over the preserve should.

A fire in the Brooker Creek Preserve is "our big fear," the Oldsmar fire chief said this week.

"This whole area is very high danger," said Pinellas' north county land manager.

"I'm very concerned," said a senior forest ranger at the state's Brooker Creek Forestry Station.

They say the 8,000-acre Brooker Creek Preserve in East Lake is bone dry and could easily ignite.

A forewarning was the big column of dark smoke that rose from the nearby Mobbly Bayou Wilderness Preserve in Oldsmar Saturday, catching the eye of North Pinellas residents going about their weekend errands. The fire, still smoldering Tuesday, burned about 2 acres of the preserve and about 36 acres of the adjoining Progress Energy Higgins Power Plant property. Fortunately, there were no homes nearby.

That isn't the case at the Brooker Creek Preserve. There, homes nestle right up to the edge of the preserve, increasing the danger if a fire starts.

Fire officials believe the Mobbly Bayou fire was started by youths playing with fireworks. Witnesses said they saw children setting off fireworks there, and firefighters even reported hearing fireworks exploding as they worked the fire Saturday.

Clearly, no one should be using fireworks in or near these nature preserves, and parents should monitor their children's activities. With the Brooker Creek Preserve so dry, county and law enforcement officials should institute extra patrols of the area. Residents who hear or see anything suspicious should call authorities immediately.

People driving, hiking or riding bikes in the area must be careful not to discard cigarette butts that could ignite a blaze in dry grass.

Fire officials say people who live near the preserve need to get busy doing things that will help protect their homes if a wildfire breaks out in the preserve. Those things include trimming trees and shrubs so they are not against the house, getting rid of yard waste and dead plants, creating a 30-foot buffer between their homes and the forest, and making sure they have working garden hoses and a ladder.

Earlier this month, Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson said the state is experiencing twice the wildfire activity it did a year ago. As Florida experiences its third year of drought, he urged residents to avoid outdoor burning or any other activities that raise the risk of fire.

Just since Jan. 1, Florida has had 1,024 wildfires that have burned 24,730 acres. At this time last year, there had been 508 fires burning 11,292 acres. Since lightning season has not begun, humans are believed to have caused most or all of these fires.

Once thunderstorm season arrives, Mother Nature will be in charge and lightning will be a constant danger. For now, there is plenty that residents and officials can do to reduce the risk of wildfire in North Pinellas preserves.

You can help prevent Pinellas brush fires 03/24/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 24, 2009 6:01pm]
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