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Trees blown down during Hurricane Ian making potential SWFL wildfires more dangerous

4th Street Fire Scar Ian Blow Down
Posted at 5:20 PM, Mar 02, 2023

CAPE CORAL, Fla. — It has been five months since Hurricane Ian hit Southwest Florida, and the storm severely damaged homes and infrastructure, blowing down thousands of acres of trees. Those trees are now turning into fuel for potential wildfires.

The Florida Forest Service says the 4th Street Fire in Cape Coral, which was highly visible from Pine Island Road, that burned nearly 40 acres at the beginning of February, was the perfect example of how wildfires behave in a post-Ian world.

“It almost created a latticework where all the trees are interlaid together,” said Wildfire Mitigation Specialist Michael Harris.

Trees scattered in every direction as the Florida Forest Service took Fox 4 Meteorologist Andrew Shipley along the dozer lines of the 4th Street Fire. Harris noted this specific area after Ian as a potential problem location.

“We did a lot of scouting after Ian to identify areas like this,” said Harris. “So, when we have a fire out here, we want to send adequate response right off the bat.”

And not only are the down trees post-Ian slowing the speed at which fires are contained but also make them more dangerous. Trees are still falling inside the 4th Street Fire scar. Falling trees are always dangerous to firefighters, but that danger is even higher in the post-Ian world.

“And if that tree gives free and comes down on someone or a vehicle you could have medical or equipment problems,” said Harris.

With these blown-down trees as potential problem spots, the Forest Service is looking into doing mitigation work to reduce the dangers, but it could take some time with limited resources.

“Within the next couple years starting to get in some mitigation work done in these areas then that’s what we are going to do and try to reduce some of the extreme fires we could have,” said Harris.

Harris tells Fox 4 that they will be dealing with this tree blowdown from Hurricane Ian over the next several fire seasons, making fire harder and more dangerous to put out.