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    Reminders all around of Oldsmar fire peril

    Scouts and fire officials go door-to-door today to warn residents of the area's brushfire danger.

    By RICHARD DANIELSONr

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 10, 2001


    OLDSMAR -- With little rain in sight, Boy Scout Troop 64 and Oldsmar fire officials plan to fan out today and remind townspeople how close they live to tinder-dry areas vulnerable to brushfire.

    "In Pinellas County, and especially Oldsmar, we have have a lot of what's called wildland/urban interfaces," Oldsmar fire prevention specialist Ann Reishus said Friday. "Because of the weather conditions . . . the potential for a large-scale brushfire is there."

    Recently, the city started inserting fire safety reminders into city utility bills. Reishus said every home in the city will get a flier during the next month.

    Today, Scouts will move through neighborhoods particularly close to undeveloped or overgrown areas and hang fire safety placards on the front doors of up to 350 houses.

    Reishus said the Scouts will go to Bay Arbor, Forest Lakes, the Preserve and residential areas along Lafayette Boulevard and Shore Drive. Those areas, she said, are close to either the Brooker Creek Preserve, the city's planned Mobbly Bayou Wilderness Preserve, privately owned vacant land or easements.

    The city's most recent brush fire was Jan. 19 south of Lexington Street on the east side of Shore Drive. The fire, which was intentionally set, burned about a half-acre, and a stiff wind pushed it to within 400 feet of neighboring homes.

    "It was was a very windy day and the flames kept coming closer and closer to those people's houses and they were quite panicked that it could come that close to their homes," Reishus said. "We were fortunate that there was enough equipment that was there early enough to prevent any damage to their homes."

    As precautions, city officials say residents should:

    Make a fire-safe zone around their homes by removing flammable vegetation and leaves at least 30 feet from the house.

    Make sure yard trees and shrubs are at least 15 to 20 feet apart. Prune lower limbs 15 feet from the ground to prevent fire on the ground from spreading up.

    Remove limbs hanging over roofs and chimneys.

    Clean gutters and roofs of leaves and needles.

    Store firewood 30 to 100 feet from the house.

    Supervise children to make sure they are not playing with fire.

    Do not do any outside burning, except for barbecues, without obtaining a permit from the Oldsmar Fire Department. People who use charcoal grills should not leave them unattended, nor should they dump hot coals on the ground.

    Reishus said city officials began requiring permits for burning brush or other materials in late 1999, after huge fires ravaged Florida's Atlantic Coast. The permits require safety measures to be taken and are seldom issued. A contractor working on the extension of Linebaugh Avenue recently filed an application and withdrew the request when it appeared that it would not be approved.

    As of Friday, the state Division of Forestry's drought index for Pinellas County was an average of 577 on a scale of 800, although some areas of Pinellas were drier. The index, which measures the amount of moisture on the ground, ranges from 0, for saturated, swamp-like conditions to 800, or desert-dry conditions.

    Around Oldsmar, Reishus said, even swampy areas have dried up. She said she drove around the 27-acre tract off Forest Lakes Boulevard that's being proposed for low- to moderate-income apartments, and found "not a drop of water" in areas that are usually wetlands.

    "It's as dry as a bone," she said. "Certainly a large-scale brush fire up in the north part of town or even in the southern part of town could do a lot of damage. The potential is there."

    - Staff writer Richard Danielson can be reached at (727) 445-4194 or danielson@sptimes.com.

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