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To Burn or Not to Burn-That is the Question

January 28, 2009 - Patrick Comer
Its cold and the perfect time for a nice outdoor fire to warm up to. Gather the family around. Roast a few hot dogs and marshmallows. Sounds pretty good. But the drought index is also climbing. So can you legally build a fire in your backyard? And if so, what are the restrictions? Those are questions we are getting more and more often. It is also a problem we see more of when someone decides to burn now and ask questions later. Unfortunately, fines may exceed $100 per offense.

First, let’s take a look at the drought index. As of January 23rd the Keetch-Byram Index was at 614 for Lee County. For January 23rd last year it was 560. While not severe yet, the drought is worse this year than last and caution is the order. Recent freezes have also made the situation more critical. Freeze-damaged leaves quickly dry out becoming easy fuel for fire.

As of this writing there are no burn bans in effect in Lee County. However, that can change literally any day so you are encouraged to keep track of the news or call the Lehigh Acres Fire Department at 303-5308 to find out if any bans are in effect. Pamphlets on Recreational Burning are also available at any of our fire stations.

Burning of trash or yard debris is generally not legal in Lehigh Acres unless you obtain a permit to do so. However, a so-called “recreational fire” is allowed if you meet certain conditions. A recreational fire, like a campfire, is allowed if: • It is no larger than 48 inches in width • There is a 25 foot setback from structures and combustible materials • There is a retention barrier around the fire • It is constantly attended by a competent person • There is a charged water hose able to reach 15-20 feet beyond the fire.

• A recreational fire larger than 48 inches wide is considered a “bonfire.” Bonfires require: • A setback of at least 165 feet from any structures • A 25 foot setback from any combustible materials like brush or trees • A retention barrier around the fire • A competent person attending the fire at all times • A charged water hose able to reach 15-20 feet beyond the fire

Neither a “Recreational Fire” nor a “Bonfire” is allowed if a burn ban is in effect. If you would like, one of our inspectors would be happy to schedule a courtesy visit to show you what safety precautions are necessary. Our goal is safety, education and prevention, not slapping fines on people. We would like you to be able to enjoy a safe outdoor fire with your family. The reality is, the more time families spend together, talking, sharing stories and concerns, the less likely kids will drift into trouble. Trouble that sometimes includes starting brushfires.

2009 Firefighter Calendars Are In!

The 2009 Firefighter Calendars are in and available at each of the five fire stations in Lehigh. The calendars are just $10 and the money raised goes to The Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida. We hope you will help us help the youngest members of our community. And besides great photos of some of our firefighters, the calendar is full of tips to keep your family safe. You can pickup a calendar at any of our fire stations.

During December the Lehigh Fire and Rescue District responded to 582 incidents. • 29 Fires (6 structure Fires, 8 brush fires, 10 vehicle fires and 5 illegal burns) • 454 EMS Medical Calls • 44 False Alarms and false calls • 28 Cancelled en route and Good Intent Calls • 6 Hazardous Conditions (No fire) • 16 Service Calls

• 29 New Construction Inspections • 34 Fire Safety Inspections of Occupied Buildings • 13 Fire Investigations • 11 Plan Reviews of new construction and renovations • 33 ISO Classification requests • 30 Fire Hydrant Evaluations • 17 Alarm Activations • 4 Public Assistance Requests • 4 Public Education Events to approximately 2090 students and residents

If you would like a Life Safety Presentation at your school or community organization, or if you have a question about the fire district please email me at


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