Pinellas Co. chopping down thousands of trees to prevent brush fires

Posted at 5:26 PM, May 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-18 17:26:36-04

Pinellas County is working fast to protect you and your family from a brush fire. Crews are chopping down thousands of pine trees in Brooker Creek Preserve near Oldsmar to cut down on fire danger.

The county says the trees pose a major fire threat.

Pinellas County has a scary way of describing the preserve during this dry, humid weather. They say the 8,700 acre preserve is like a “tinderbox waiting to ignite.”

People in several subdivisions, including East Lake Woodlands, Tarpon Woods and Hawks Landing live less than 100 yards away from the preserve. About 100 homes back right up to Brooker Creek in both Oldsmar and Palm Harbor. 

Linda Jacoby lives in East Lake Woodlands in Oldsmar and is urging all of her neighbors to use extreme caution. Her biggest fear is seeing her back yard erupt in flames. “I haven’t seen it this dry and dangerous for years,” she exclaimed.

She’s watched nervously as brush fires in other parts of Tampa Bay scorch through preserves a lot like the one behind her home. 

“It’s very scary. We’ve certainly had days you could smell it and see the smoke. Knowing we have that potential in our back yard is frightening,” Jacoby added.

It puts Pinellas County on edge too.

Lisa Baltus, Pinellas County's Conservation Land Manager explained, “It’s the biggest open space we have in the county and it’s surrounded by subdivisions all around the perimeter.”

But the county is being proactive. Crews are working fast to make Brooker Creek less of a fire hazard. They’re removing thousands of dense pine trees and thinning down the forest to make it less dangerous. 

Pines are among the most flammable trees in dry weather because of all those needles.

“It torches. So the whole pine tree will go up like a big torch,” Baltus added.

Chopping the pines down is a move that could slow down any brush fire and keep it from spreading to Jacoby’s back yard. 

"If we just tried to do prescribed burning here, it wouldn't thin the pines out enough and it would kill some of the trees and then we would have a bunch of dead pines standing, which would make the fire danger even higher. Thining them is the best solution," Baltus added.

The county is leaving about 20-25 pine trees per acre. In some areas there were more than 100 pine trees per acre. "You could barely see through the woods," Baltus added.

Jacoby appreciates that the county is stepping in before a wild fire starts, but her neighbor Jimmy Richmond knows until we get a good drenching rain, we won’t be in the clear.

“I think there is still enough fodder, woods, dry leaves and brush to start up a good blaze," he explained

Brooker Creek Preserve also has a Florida Forest Service fire crew on the preserve, which are always ready to respond to brush fires.