Volume 3 Number 20
May 15, 2006

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GALLAGHER: AGGRESSIVE ACTION WILL BE TAKEN FOR ACTS OF ARSON THAT DESTROY PROPERTY, HOMES
State Fire Marshal Urges Floridians to Fire-Proof Homes as Precaution

Wildfires fueled by extra-dry conditions have burned nearly 61,000 acres and several homes in Florida so far this year, prompting State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher to warn that anyone who intentionally causes a fire will face aggressive action. Gallagher also is urging Floridians to take steps to protect their families and property.

“It is critical that we not only protect our homes and property, but that we make sure we do nothing that could put anyone else’s home or property at risk,” Gallagher said. “Anyone who starts a wildfire can expect aggressive action from the State Fire Marshal’s Office.”

Governor Jeb Bush has issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency and called in the National Guard to assist with firefighting. The State Fire Marshal’s Office is assisting the Division of Forestry in coordinating heavy equipment to protect homes and is assisting in the investigation to determine if the fires were the result of arson.

This week is Arson Awareness Week in Florida, and Gallagher said parents must teach children to never play with matches or lighters, as juveniles have been charged in some of this year’s wildfires, including a large one that destroyed numerous homes in Lee County. He is urging anyone who suspects arson to call 1-877-662-7766 (1-877-NOARSON).

Topography, fuel sources, and weather all influence the spread of wildfire, but statistics show that trimming and cleaning vegetation around your home can profoundly improve a home’s chances of surviving a wildfire. Gallagher said the first step is to fire-proof your home and the area around it.

• Remove limbs, leaves, and pine needles from the roof.
• Trim tree limbs away from each other and from roof eaves.
• Remove dead and diseased trees and prune lower branches away from shrubs or grass.
• Clear pine needles, leaves and debris from the ground in-between brush and trees.
• Keep grass mowed to under four inches.
• Do not use the area under decks for storage.
• Install smoke alarms and make sure they are working.
• Establish a home escape plan and practice it. Designate a meeting place outside.
• Plan several escape routes away from your property.

Gallagher also advised gathering important insurance and financial documents in a waterproof container. He also said it is a good idea to videotape your home and property, and document your recording by holding up a newspaper, then keep the videotape in the same container with your important documents.

Also create a disaster kit in case you have to evacuate and include:

• Flashlight with extra batteries
• Portable, battery-operated radio with extra batteries
• First-aid kit
• Non-perishable food and water
• Non-electric can opener
• Medications
• Cash and credit cards
• Sturdy shoes and extra clothing
• Food and supplies for pets

If a fire is threatening your home or nearby area, Gallagher said:

• Keep a radio on for updates.
• Remove combustible items from around your home, including lawn and poolside furniture, umbrellas, fabric awnings, tarp coverings, firewood, fuel tanks, and fuel-powered equipment.
• Place valuables that will not be damaged by water in a pool or pond.
• Close all doors and windows inside to prevent draft.
• Take down flammable drapes, curtains, and close Venetian blinds.
• Close gas valves and turn off all pilot lights.
• Turn on a light in each room for visibility in case of heavy smoke.
• Leave sprinklers on roofs or anything that might be damaged by fire, including fuel tanks.
• Be ready to evacuate family and pets when fire nears or when instructed to do so by local officials.

“Wildfire is a very real threat for many Floridians right now, and we need to do all we can to protect our homes and communities,” Gallagher said.