Local News

Caution urged during wildfire season Fire destroys two sheds behind AP houses

AVON PARK - As Leslie Harper worked on his computer Friday morning a neighbor yelled there was a fire behind his house.

"I got scared," Harper said, because the fire from his neighbor's shed spread to his shed and the flames were shooting high into the air reaching two large oak trees.

But the Avon Park Fire Department arrived, "very fast," he said.

Fire Chief David Cloud said the call for the fire at 20 N. Summit Ave., just north of W. Main Street, came in at 7:38 a.m. A brush truck leaving the scene of a traffic accident spotted the smoke and was the first unit on the scene.

A 30-pound propane tank exploded just before the firefighters moved to the back of the house to battle the fire, he said.

The flames were up into the trees, Cloud said. Sometimes it is hard to get enough water high into the trees, but the ladder can be used to get up there to spray them down.

State Fire Marshal Miles Davis said the fire was accidental and likely caused by an extension cord or light that Harper was using in the shed behind 16 N. Summit Ave.

Meanwhile, Florida is in the midst of its annual wildfire season.

Florida Forest Service Wildfire Mitigation Specialist Melissa Yunas said the Thunderbird wildfire from Tuesday, off of Thunderbird Road and Lemans Drive in Sebring, is not out.

"Florida Forest Service is daily mopping up continuous hotspots," she said. The duff layer (accumulation of dead leaf litter) continues to smolder and has the possibility of rekindling.

Yunas said the supervisor at the Thunderbird wildfire noted that the duff layer was extremely dry, making it very difficult to extinguish.

That area has not experienced a wildfire in some time so there has been an accumulation of leaf litter for many years.

People think of wildfires on the surface, but in some cases they can be a foot deep, she said. "We are definitely drying out in Highlands County."

The potential for new wildfires to occur increases daily without rainfall, Yunas stressed.

Data shows that 80 percent of wildfires in Highlands County are caused by humans.

The majority of those wildfires are people burning and not knowing the law and then their fire escapes, Yunas said.

Residents can stop by the Sebring Florida Forest Service Station to learn about burning information at 8036 County Road 17 S., Sebring or call 655-6407.

Yunas offered the following tips for Highlands County residents: Lean - trim vegetation away from home, Clean - no accumulation of dead vegetation or flammable debris and Green - less flammable plants that are healthy, watered and green during dry season.

Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam and the Florida Forest Service urged Floridians on Friday to be extremely careful with fires outdoors.

This week is Wildfire Awareness Week, which recognizes wildfires that raged across Florida in 1998, burning more than 500,000 acres and damaging or destroying 337 homes and structures.

Since Jan. 1, the Florida Forest Service's firefighters have responded to more than 500 wildfires on 9,183 acres, most from human carelessness.

Check with your local city or county officials to see if there are any burn restrictions in the area and keep fires contained to an 8-foot diameter pile or non-combustible barrel. Fires must be at least 25 feet from forests, 25 feet from homes, 50 feet from paved public roads and 150 feet from other occupied buildings.


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