(Santa Rosa Beach) – WALTON FIRE COUNCIL ENCOURAGES VOLUNTARY BURN BAN WALTON COUNTY— With extreme drought conditions persisting and summer lightning storms on the horizon, the Walton Fire Council, members from the Florida Division of Forestry, the Walton County Sheriff’s Office, and Walton County Emergency Management officials met on Monday evening to discuss the potential hazards and concerns for the 2011 wildfire season. In addition, implementing a “voluntary burn ban until further notice” was discussed as well as forming a Multi-Agency Wildland Task Force. The Walton Fire Council is comprised of Fire Chiefs from Walton County’s six fire-rescue agencies: South Walton Fire District, DeFuniak Springs Fire Department, Freeport Fire Department, Walton County Fire Rescue, Liberty Volunteer Fire District, and Argyle Volunteer Fire Department. The voluntary burn ban means that Walton County residents as well as visitors are being encouraged to NOT burn any type of yard debris until drought-like conditions subside. The voluntary ban would also include any other type of ‘open fires’ like campfires and bonfires as well as unauthorized fireworks displays. Cooking fires contained within grills and other such devices as well as authorized ‘professional’ fireworks displays are not included in this voluntary burn ban. The average drought index using the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, or KBDI, based on a scale from 0 to 800, is over 700 in Walton County. Any number above 500 is considered in the wildfire danger zone. The drought index, coupled with lightning, has prompted fire officials to recommend a voluntary burn ban for all areas of Walton County. Even scattered showers will not provide the necessary moisture to reduce the current wildfire threats, so the voluntary burn ban will remain in effect until Walton County receives significant rainfall over an extended period of time. Furthermore, lighting associated with thunderstorms can spark wildfires that can smolder for several days until the vegetative ‘fuel’ that it’s burning in dries out and can then spread rapidly. Your local fire officials urge citizens to follow these safety tips: • Voluntarily delay any outside burning until Walton County receives significant rainfall over an extended period of time. • Take yard debris to the Walton County landfill or recycling centers, a safer alternative to backyard burning. Call Walton County Solid Waste at 892-8180 for more information. • Immediately report any unattended fires to local authorities. –MORE– • Use vehicle ashtrays instead of throwing cigarette butts out the window. • Use caution when mowing or working with other equipment that could spark. • Illegal fireworks remain a constant threat. Avoid them by attending a professional fireworks display. Even though this burn ban is voluntary at this time, meaning that there are no fines or penalties associated with the actual act of violating it, it is important that the public know that if their fire escapes they could be subject to a “Notice of Violation” (NOV) and could be responsible for suppression costs involved which is usually a minimum of $150.00. “The formation of a County Multi-Agency Wildland Task Force could not come at a better time’” says Walton Fire Council Chair, South Walton Fire Chief Rick Talbert. “While wildfires have impacted many Florida counties, it is imperative that Walton County look at a task force approach, utilizing a cooperative and unified effort to minimize the risk to our county” says Talbert. Though the Walton Fire Council cannot implement a mandatory burn ban, however, it can make recommendations to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners, which implemented mandatory burn bans in 1998 and 2001. Such a decision by the County Commissioners could be forthcoming. For more information on current wildfire conditions, visit http://fl-dof.com/ and click on the “Wildfire Information” link. Florida’s dry weather since the beginning of May has caused extreme fire activity. Since May 1, the Department’s Division of Forestry has battled more than 1,500 wildfires that have burned nearly 200,000 acres across the state, making it one of the busiest wildfire years in recent history. For media interviews and photo and video opportunities, contact Fire Marshal Sammy Sanchez of the South Walton Fire District at 850-267-1298 or Brian Goddin—Wildfire Mitigation Specialist/ Public Information Officer: Florida Division of Forestry (Chipola District) at 625-6621. To report a suspicious fire, call 547-7083.