Big Pine Key Brush Fire

BIG PINE KEY BRUSH FIRE EXTINGUISHED

The Big Pine Key Brush Fire, which began Sunday, April 22, 2018, was completely contained and put out by Sunday, April 29, 2018.

Mother Nature helped, with 1.7 inches of rain recorded at the Big Pine Key Forestry site on Friday, April 27. The rain significantly reduced heat in the fire interior and enabled firefighters to 100 percent contain the fire.

Crews continued the next two days to attack remaining hot-spots, focusing on smoldering stumps and heavy fuels.  They also conducted mitigation operations by reinforcing fire breaks and tearing down piles of combustible fuels to diminish future wildfire threats. 

Minimal personnel and equipment from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Florida Forest Service remain in the area to patrol the perimeter and be on call just in case any fire does reignite in the burn area or elsewhere. Monroe County Fire Rescue crews also are available.

The Big Pine Key brush fire began just before 2 p.m. on April 22 in a wooded area. With strong winds and dry conditions, the fire quickly spread and burned 72 acres. Quick response limited the property destruction to 1 home and a detached garage, with about 30 homes saved in the burn area. Nobody was injured, and no loss of wildlife was reported.

Crews from more than 10 agencies, from Georgia to Key West, supported the fire suppression efforts.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

CONDITIONS REMAIN FAVORABLE FOR WILDFIRES IN LOWER KEYS

It should be noted that this was a good-sized and complex fire by Big Pine Key standards and the response was large and will be expensive.  However, at least 93 percent of the pine rocklands on Big Pine Key with all the Hurricane Irma debris are still unburned.  Residents and firefighters must remain vigilant and "fire safe" as we remain in dry conditions. 

Residents should report any fire immediately to 911. Residents in wooded areas should also take protective measures around their homes to create a defensible space, ideally 100 feet overall. The initial 30 to 50 feet of space surrounding a structure should be clean of fuel stockpiles such as wood, trash and old vehicles.

THANKS TO RESIDENTS & BUSINESS OWNERS WHO SUPPORTED FIREFIGHTING EFFORT

This Big Pine Key Brush Fire Unified Command would like to thank the residents and local businesses for their patience and support during the operations.

They include: Winn Dixie Big Pine, Bucktooth Rooster Restaurant, Superior Sweets, Bob Hamilton, Linda Muncy, Mikki Gittings, Big Pine Key Library Branch staff, Marathon Mayor Michelle Coldiron, Brutus Seafood, Thomas Ryan, Brooke Dore, Tyler Dore and several other local business and citizens who donated as anonymous donors.

MAP OF THE FIRE AREA

Revised Map of Big Pine Key Brush Fire B

FIRE IS BENEFICIAL TO PINE ROCKLAND HABITAT

The pine rockland habitat needs fire to exist and the plants and animals that rely on the habitat have evolved with fire as a part of life.  The resulting wildfire will likely benefit habitats in the long run and has certainly reduced fire fuel that has built up and been deposited by Irma.

THE BRUSH FIRE FACTS AND RESPONDING AGENCIES

The initial 911 call about a fire on Big Pine Key came in at 1: 52 p.m. on Sunday (April 22). Monroe County Fire Rescue received the alarm call at 1:53 p.m. and arrived at the fire just three minutes later. 

The fire in a wooded area spread quickly with windy and dry conditions, and with the large supply of “fuel” due to dead, dry vegetation from Hurricane Irma. A Unified Command of Monroe County Emergency Services, Florida Forest Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service was established to manage fire suppression operations. Soon, six more agencies were involved in the firefighting response on Sunday: Key West Police Department, Islamorada Fire Rescue, Marathon Fire Rescue, Naval Air Station Boca Chica, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and Chris Bergh of The Nature Conservancy. 

Personnel from the Monroe County Sheriff's Office and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also helped in the initial attack effort. More than 70 first-responders participated on Day One of the brush fire.

During the next few days, crews from the U.S. Forest Service, Key Largo Fire District, the National Park Service and the Georgia Forestry Commission have also responded.

PROTECTING LIFE AND PROPERTY

The first and most important priority of the fire response is protection of life and property and will remain so for the duration of the operations.

The fire quickly burned about 72 acres. One home with a separate garage was destroyed. About 30 more homes in the fire's path were saved. This included the home of 23 years of Juanita Kretschmar. No one was injured. 

Wildlife also appeared to fare well. An endangered Key deer fawn was saved by Monroe County Fire Rescue firefighter Jen Shockley -- and a box turtle was saved by another MCFR crew.

The initial response of professional firefighters (both structural and wildland) is actively attacking the fire at the highest priority locations (personal homes and property) and in strategic locations to thwart the spread of the fire.  

This was the "initial attack," which included close observation of weather, operational coordination among agencies and asking for the right number and type of additional resources. 

Fire lines were established on existing roads and trails where it was safe, reasonable and strategic for firefighters to hold fire within a confined area and not let it out. 

BRUSH FIRE INFORMATION AND PREVENTION TIPS

Fire officials would like to remind residents to have a plan and be prepared during any fire threat.  

Visit Ready, Set, Go (http://wildlandfirersg.org/) and Fire Wise USA (www.nfpa.org) for tips and information on how to create defensible space around your home and create Go Kits if the need for evacuation arises