BRYCEVILLE, Fla. – As crews continued Thursday to fight a nearly 700-acre wildfire in Nassau County that was sparked by an illegal burn, forestry officials urged Northeast Florida residents not to burn any debris, because it's just too dangerous at this time of year.
The Bryceville wildfire was started about 2 p.m. Wednesday by a man who was burning boxes at a home on Wills Lane near Garfield Road.
It grew quickly when the wind shifted, and by Thursday morning, 15 structures were destroyed, including at least two homes. The fire forced over 100 people to evacuate and shut down roads in the area of County Road 119 and County Road 121.
“It's been a long time since we've had this severe and this intense of a wildfire moving that quickly through the area,” said Annaleasa Winter, of the Florida Forest Service. “We knew this was going to be a bad fire season, and there's still a lot more of the fire season to come.”
Yard debris burns are never legal in Duval County, and forestry officials said they're not safe anywhere right now in Northeast Florida because of the dry conditions. St. Johns, Putnam and Volusia counties are under a burn ban right now, officials said.
“You might think it's safe, but a little bit of wind, low humidity, the pine straw, the leaf litter, all that stuff laying on the ground is extremely dry, and it's ready to burn,” Winter said. “People just turn their back for a second, and that's all it takes. The next thing you know, your house, your neighbor's house -- you just really don't know. You can't risk it now. Please hold off on burning yard debris. That is our leading cause of wildfires in Florida, and we just don't need to add to the problem.”
Winter said the area won't get a break from the dry conditions until the rains come in May and June.
Prepare your home
She said forestry and fire officials are counting on residents to help prepare their homes for the ongoing fire season.
She said residents in rural areas should make sure they have 30 feet of “clear, defensible space with no flammable materials” around their homes.
CHECKLIST: Is your home at risk for wildfire damage?
“Pine straw, leaf litter -- clean all that off your roof, out of your gutters and off your decks, any wooden attachments to the house. You want to clear your fence line and brushes back,” Winter said. “Take the time now to prepare your house.”
Randy Wyse, president of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters, also stressed the importance of cleaning out the gutters.
"All it takes is one very small ember to get into those leaves, and if it's dry enough, it could stay there hours, sometimes days, smoldering," he said.
Wyse added that dried palm and palmetto trees close to homes can also be dangerous. He said make sure that trees are trimmed and the ground is clear.
"Even leaves -- make sure your yard is raked away from your home and the leaves are pushed back," Wyse said. "If you have a slow ground fire that will run right up until the home."
Winter said those preparations can help firefighters safely defend a home if there is a fire in the area.
For more information on how to prepare properties for wildfires, go to firewise.org.