This week, forestry and firefighting agencies around the nation are urging the public to keep an eye out for suspicious wildfire activity during National Arson Awareness Week. Typically, National Arson Awareness Week has focused on the important issue of preventing structure arson. This year, however, the national arson awareness theme is “prevent wildfire arson- spread the facts, not the fire.” This shift in theme clearly signifies how serious the issue of wildfire arson has become nationwide.
In Florida alone, wildfire arson is the most frequent human-cause of wildfire and represents 14 percent of all wildfire occurrences throughout the state. Since January, the Florida Forest Service has responded to more than 160 arson wildfires that have burned 6,900 acres in Florida. This accounts for more than 46 percent of the total acres burned by all Florida wildfires so far this year. From a national perspective, one in every five reported wildfires is intentionally set, according to the National Fire Protection Agency.
Not only do arson wildfires endanger life, property and natural resources, they represent major monetary losses as well. Consumers pay more for the thousands of products made from forest materials, taxpayers foot the bill for suppressing the fires, jobs can be eliminated if the resource is reduced, and families can lose their homes and possessions. In Florida, wildfire arson costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year. In addition, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than half a million wildfires set by arsonists each year result in more than $3 billion in damages nationwide.
The southeastern states represented by the Southern Group of State Foresters typically experience heightened wildfire danger in the spring, so it is particularly vital right now to encourage our public to remain alert. Those who report suspicious wildfire activity are an invaluable resource as we work together with local law enforcement and fire departments to stop arsonists and keep wildfires at bay. Some tips that can help the public most effectively report suspicious wildfire activity include:
- Call 911 immediately;
- Never approach the suspect;
- Identify vehicle descriptions and license plates;
- Note physical descriptions of suspects, and
- Pinpoint the location where the suspicious behavior was observed.
The southern states have developed several excellent wildfire arson prevention programs that are administered by both state forestry agencies and their partners. The Florida Forest Service developed the Forestry Arson Alert Association in 1986 as a non-profit vehicle for supplying information to the public about wildfire arson. The association also acquires funds and distributes rewards for information leading to the apprehension of a wildland arsonist. This program has been an excellent tool both in bringing heightened awareness to the wildfire arson issue, and providing incentive for the public to report suspicious wildfire activity.
For more information about wildfire arson prevention in the southern states, visit the Southern Group of State Foresters' Member Agencies webpage.
The Florida Forest Service, a division of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, manages more than one million acres of public forest land while protecting homes, forestland and natural resources from the devastating effects of wildfire on more than 26 million acres. To learn more about Florida Forest Service programs, visit www.FloridaForestService.com.