Wildfire danger heats up in Palm Beach County

By Al Pefley bio|email

LOXAHATCHEE, FL (WFLX) - Another wildfire breaks out in Miami, a reminder of just how dangerously dry it is.

In fact, forecasters met in Miami Tuesday discussing the threat of wildfires.

The problem looks like it will only get worse. This season already shapes up to be one of the worst on record. South Florida is as dry as can be, and not a raindrop in sight. The drought index is higher than normal for this time of year. A lack of rainfall, coupled with recent freezes means there's a lot of dead,  dry brush out there.

Flames like those near Miami are a nightmare for anyone in their path, including people like Heather Martinez of Loxahatchee.

Heather, a school crossing guard, lives a long way from the fire near Miami. But she and her husband and two boys live in a rural neighborhood where they're always afraid of a wildfire destroying their house.  "We usually get afternoon showers by this time of the year and we haven't seen anything. Anything. Very dry. I feel very threatened," Martinez said.

Her home on East Downers Drive sits right next to a heavily wooded lot. It looks more like a jungle.   Heather knows if a fire starts in there, it wouldn't take much for the sparks to land on her roof and set her house on fire, too.

"I know we several times have found people camping in there. You never know what they're doing in there," Martinez said.

She doesn't have any bushes or hedges growing beside the house that could catch fire. Fire experts say it's smart to have a 30 foot buffer around the house that's free of vegetation.

Authorities say people in rural neighborhoods need to be on their toes.  One firefighter says it's times like this, where everything is really dry, that worries them a lot.

"We don't know when we're gonna get rainfall. Unless you can talk to your meteorologist and get us some good rain, we're still in trouble!" said Bob Smallacombe, a firefighter/paramedic with Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue.

A burn ban is now in effect in Palm Beach County, meaning no campfires. No outdoor burning. Period. "It's pretty bad. Everyday the drought index seems to be increasing," Smallacombe said.

With the burn ban in effect, anyone caught with a campfire gets a warning the first time.  The next time there's a $250 fine.