Florida officials: Contractors to blame for prescribed burn that destroyed 36 homes, boats

A wildfire mitigation group contracted by the state of Florida is responsible for a weekend prescribed burn that got out of control and destroyed dozens of homes and several boats, officials confirmed Wednesday.

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam on Wednesday announced that a burn conducted by Wildland Fire Services Inc. on behalf of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission caused the Sunday wildfire in Eastpoint, Florida over the weekend.

Fanned by high winds, the fire burned more than 800 acres and destroyed 36 homes in the small coastal community on the Florida panhandle.

Drone footage of the aftermath is available here. 

“My heart goes out to those affected by this devastating wildfire, and I thank all of our partners in the response effort to stop the spread of the fire,” Putnam said in a statement Wednesday.

The Florida Forest Service led response efforts to contain and control the wildfire with assistance from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Eastpoint Volunteer Fire Department, and other local fire departments.

The fire burned through the heavily wooded residential area Sunday near the edge of Tate’s Hell State Forest. No one was killed in the blaze itself, though one man who was trying to help during the evacuation suffered an apparent heart attack and died.

For obvious reasons, the news on Wednesday did not sit will with Franklin County residents. Reporters spoke with several in the area.

From the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper:

“I am so furious right now,” said April Dalton, who lives in the neighborhood hit by the wildfire. “There was a loss of life and damage because someone dropped the ball. Children and families are homeless now because someone did not do their job.”

Dalton said she and her husband escaped the blaze after rescuing their dogs, turning their chickens loose and wetting their house down with a hose. Her husband had to be treated for low oxygen and heat illness later.

John Matthew Polous, a shrimper and oysterman, lost 14 boats, his home and pickup trucks, the Associated Press reported.

“They finally admitted to what done it, now let’s see what they are going to do,” Polous, 51, said while walking through the burned remains of his home. “Why was they even burning this time of year back here? That don’t make sense, but they was and there’s nothing nobody can do about it.”

The Florida Forest Service was among those who joined in sharing an online fundraiser aimed at assisting those affected by the fire. More than $67,000 had been contributed by Thursday morning. The state is also planning on offering immediate financial assistance. 

New film released — “Fire: In the Florida Scrub”

Above: Screenshot from the film.

In 2012 when I first heard of Jennifer Brown she was working in the Interpretation Division in Everglades National Park  and her term appointment was about to end. She had just produced for the National Park Service an excellent film about prescribed fire titled “River of Fire”. Now with many other videos about fire under her belt with her company Into Nature Films, she has produced another — “Fire: In the Florida Scrub”. As with some of her other projects, she partnered with the former Fire Management Officer at Everglades National Park, Rick Anderson.

Here is the official description of the film:

Fire is one of the earth’s dominant forces. ‘Surviving Fire: In the Florida Scrub’ features three decades of discovery by Dr. Eric Menges. After watching this powerful short film, you will never look at Florida plants the same away again. This film pays tribute to the special people who dedicate their lives to improving fire management. Join Eric Menges for a 16 minute exploration into the elegant and unexpected ways plants survive fire. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and produced by Into Nature Films in collaboration with Archbold Biological Station.

Like the other “Into Nature Films”, this one is beautifully photographed and very clearly tells the story. It’s impressive how they had video footage to illustrate almost every point brought up in the narration.

Ms. Brown’s other films can be seen at articles on Wildfire Today tagged “Jennifer Brown”.

Fires in Big Cypress National Park have burned over 38,000 acres

Above: Data from the Incident Management Team, May 5, 2018.

Three large wildfires in Big Cypress National Park and Preserve in South Florida have burned a total of 38,808 acres. Along with several other small fires they are being managed as the Avian Complex.

  • Buzzard Fire, 23,914 acres: Raccoon Point 11 miles north of US 41 MM 50. It continues to be active in the northeastern and southwestern portions. The observed fire behavior Saturday was flanking fire with short head fire runs. Scattered areas received small amounts of rain that had zero effect on the fuel conditions. The passing storms brought increased winds that pushed it to the north, increasing the threat to the cabins in the Little Deer area.
  • Flamingo Fire, 4,043 acres: north of I-75, E of SR 29, S of Preserve N boundary. It was active Saturday before receiving about 1/2 inch of rain. A well developed smoke column was visible from Highway 29 and I-75. A steady flanking fire was moving north and northwest with small areas of head fire.
  • Curlew Fire, 1,062 acres: South of US 41, east and north of Loop Road. It is burning in both Big Cypress National Park and Preserve and Everglades National Park. No fire activity was observed Saturday due to additional moisture and limited fuels.
avian complex fire wildfire
Uploaded to InciWeb May 5, 2018, labeled: “Jose Martinez PR crew”.
Map of fires Avian Complex
Map of fires in the Avian Complex. Incident Management Team May 5, 2018.

Florida wildfire season underway; crews working multiple lightning-caused fires

The Greenway Fire burned more than 6,000 acres in Florida as of Sunday, March 25, 2018. Photo: Greater Naples Fire Rescue

Spring has sprung, and so have wildfires in parched parts of Florida.

The Greenway Fire, burned 6,600 acres by Sunday afternoon and was 20 percent contained, according to Greater Naples Fire Rescue. A 17-acre spot fire was complicating efforts, and crews have worked to keep the blaze from reaching southwest Florida communities, including VeronaWalk and Winding Cypress.

“As long as wind conditions do not unexpectedly change, the outlook for these communities looks favorable as of this report,” fire officials said Sunday.

Elsewhere, the 116th Ave SE Fire was listed at 8,000 acres and 45 percent contained Sunday, per the the Caloosahatchee Forestry Center. This fire is moving toward the Flag Pond Fire, which burned 2,600 acres and was 100 percent contained Sunday — at least one occupied RV/home was destroyed, officials said.

Each of the fires was caused by lightning, officials said.

The Florida Forest Service and the Collier County Sheriff’s Office were assisting in the effort, with teams conducting water drops in the area.

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam and the Florida Forest Service last week urged Floridians to exercise caution due to significantly heightened wildfire risk throughout the state. Despite recent rainfall, drought conditions throughout the state are expected to continue — the Florida Forest Service has worked more than 700 wildfires across the state since the start of this year 2018.

“Florida’s wildland firefighters have proven time and again that they are prepared to put their lives on the line to keep Floridians safe,” Putnam said. “Floridians can do their part by keeping preventable human-caused wildfires at bay and preparing their families and homes for wildfire.”

Florida Fire Risk for Sunday, via Florida Forest Service website.

2017 Pulaski Award given to Spaceport Integration Team

A memorial was also dedicated to two USFWS firefighters who perished on the Ransom Road Fire in June, 1981.

Memorial Honor Guard FWS
The FWS honor guard places two crossed Pulaski tools at the memorial, a traditional ceremony acknowledging the passing of a wildland firefighter. FWS photo.

In a dual-purpose ceremony November 1 at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Florida (map) a group of land managers received an award and a memorial was dedicated to two deceased wildland firefighters.

In 1981 two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) firefighters were killed on the Ransom Road Fire at the Refuge. Scott Maness and Beau Sauselein were building fireline with a tractor plow when a passing thunderstorm caused a 90-degree wind shift in the wind direction with gusts up to 45 mph. They raised the plow and tried to escape on the tractor but it became high-centered on a stump concealed by palmetto. They dismounted and fled on foot but were overtaken by the fire. The two men shared a fire shelter but both were killed.

Today the Refuge hosted an outdoor ceremony near Cape Canaveral with 140 guests, including former co-workers and family members of Mr. Maness and Mr. Sauselein. The historic tragedy triggered dramatic improvements in the FWS fire program, culminating in a professional collaboration with federal, state, and local partners to support the safe operation of the spaceport while protecting a myriad of resident wildlife species.

FWS photo.

The ceremony opened with the six-person uniformed FWS National Honor Guard presenting colors and symbolically placing firefighting tools at an inscribed granite marker in front of the Refuge headquarters. Designed and built by the Refuge’s fire crew, the new memorial is now a daily reminder to staff of how two men gave their lives, imparting lessons leading to improvements in firefighter safety.

Pulaski award
Spaceport Integration Team representatives with Pulaski Award plaques. Colonel Z. Walter Jackim, Vice Commander, 45th Space Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station; Michael Good, Acting Fire Management Officer, Merritt Island NWR; John Fish, Chief, Florida Forest Service; Mark Schollmeyer Chief, Brevard County Fire Rescue; and Kelvin Manning, Associate Director, Kennedy Space Center, National Aeronautics and Space Administration. FWS photo.

Following the memorial dedication, FWS Chief of Fire Management Chris Wilcox presented the National Interagency Fire Center 2017 Pulaski Award to the Spaceport Integration Team of FWS, Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (45th Space Wing), Florida Forest Service, and Brevard County Fire Rescue. The group award is given by NIFC fire chiefs including the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, National Association of State Foresters, and other fire programs.

About 35 attendees are also participating this week in a field study of the Ransom Road Fire. Modeled after a military leadership “staff ride,” the day-long exercise focuses on the progression of events and decision making that led to the loss of life. As the first formal staff ride at the Refuge, fire leaders hope to repeat the Ransom Road Fire exercise for more fire managers in the future.

ceremonial Pulaski tool
A ceremonial Pulaski tool. FWS photo.

Park Service boat hauls supplies to hurricane ravaged islands

Above: MV Fort Jefferson. NPS photo.

A lot of people have not heard of a park that is 68 miles west of Key West, Florida. Dry Tortugas National Park is comprised of seven islands, plus protected coral reefs. Garden Key is home to beaches and the 19th-century Fort Jefferson. The National Park Service operates a boat named after the fort that makes regular runs to the park. It turns out that a boat is one of the best ways to haul large quantities of supplies to hurricane damaged islands.

From the National Park Service on September 25, 2017:


Homestead, Fla. – The 110-foot MV [Motor Vessel] Fort Jefferson, normally used to transport staff and supplies to Dry Tortugas National Park, has been loaded with over 24 tons of supplies and equipment for national parks in the Caribbean following Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The vessel departed today and will make the 78-hour trip from Key West to the Caribbean national parks this week.

“We are grateful to Dry Tortugas National Park for use of their vessel to get critical supplies to our Caribbean parks,” said [Eastern Incident Management Team] Incident Commander James King. “When I contacted Park Superintendent Pedro Ramos, he didn’t bat an eye and immediately offered his support.”

On Sunday, September 24, EIMT logistics personnel loaded over 20 pallets of food, water, fuel, and generators on the vessel. Three National Park Service boat crewmembers along with four Law Enforcement Rangers will accompany the shipment to the Caribbean. The boat is transporting supplies and resources to Virgin Islands National Park on the island of St. John and Christiansted National Historic Site on the island of St. Croix.

MV Fort Jefferson
NPS photo.

In addition to transporting supplies for the National Park Service, the vessel is also transporting six pallets of supplies for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a sister agency within the Department of the Interior. The agency has employees on the Caribbean Islands, who normally work at three National Wildlife Refuges. The two agencies have worked closely through Hurricanes Irma and Maria on stabilization, cleanup, and recovery efforts.

Employee accountability and care continue to be primary concerns of the National Park Service. Employees at all six national parks in the Caribbean have been accounted for, with the exception of San Juan National Historic Site where employee communications are currently hampered by power outages, flooding, and inaccessible roadways.

Additional updates on the status of these parks can be found at http://go.nps.gov/hurricane. Photos may be found at www.flickr.com/photos/nps_eimt.