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An Introduction to the Wildland Urban Interface in the Florida Keys

Welcome to the woods!  If you are reading this chances are you came to the Lower Keys to enjoy nature, get away from it all, and found yourself a nice quiet house near the woods.  There are hundreds of houses in the lower keys that border our pine rocklands.  Your house may even have a great view of pines and palms from your window or back deck.
Did you know that those pines and palms are adapted to fire and that their dead fronds and needles actually help fire spread through the forest?  If the area near you hasn’t burned lately, your backyard may have high levels of flammable plant debris.

Fire - A Natural Process

As we mentioned on our home page, the lower Keys are no stranger to fire.  Studies done in the lower Keys show that historically, fires occurred frequently in the pine rocklands(Fire History Studies). These regular fires maintained a balance between pine rocklands and hardwood hammocks.  Without fire, a closed hardwood hammock canopy develops and the characteristic sun loving shrubs and ground covers are lost.  Fire often scorches parts of plants, but leaves the underground portion unharmed to sprout again.  Land-based wildlife, such as the Key Deer, Lower Keys Marsh Rabbit and Box Turtle depend upon these low-growing plant species. 
Wildfires, which can start from lightning, arson or accidents, are unexpected.  In recent years, wildfires in the Keys are much more likely to be started by people than by lightning.  When these fires occur during our driest periods—late spring and mid fall—they tend to be larger, more difficult to put out safely, and are more destructive to homes and habitats.

Fire Fuels

When a fire-dependant habitat doesn’t burn or treated mechanically, flammable plant materials will continue to build up.  Signs of wildfire danger include high volumes of dead palm fronds, thick pine needles or heavy, tall grasses within 30 feet of your house.  Weather can affect levels of fire danger as well; strong winds, low humidity, and no rain all contribute to how intense a wildfire can get and how far it can travel.

Before A Fire Starts

There are many things that fire managers and homeowners can do to make the wildfire risk smaller.   The key to protecting your home is to reduce these hazardous fuels and keep your landscaping Lean, Clean and Green. 

  • Lean—small amounts of flammable vegetation
  • Clean—no accumulations of dead vegetation
  • Green—plants are healthy and green; lawn is well irrigated to prevent wildfires.
  • Actions you can take on your own land to safeguard your house and yard include:

    • Bi-annual yard work to reduce flammable yard debris like palm fronds and leaf litter.
    • Cleaning under eaves, in gutters and under porches.  More wildland house fires happen from an unseen smoldering ember than from active flames.
    • Support prescribed burn efforts in the Wildland Urban Interface
    • Be extra alert in the dry season
    • Tell your neighbors!  The more fire safe they are, the safer your whole neighborhood will be.
    • To learn more specific actions, download Fire Around Your Lower Keys Homepdf icon
      With the right precautions, you can enjoy your view of pines and palms knowing you are better prepared for the unexpected.



    On This Page...

    Introduction to the Wildland Urban Interface in the Florida Keys
    Fire A Natural Process
    Fire Fuels
    Before A Fire Starts

    An aerial image depicting the interspersed private and public lands in the keys.
    Wildland Urban Interface:  A fire management term to describe a fire-prone wild area interspersed with houses, making fire control more difficult and more dangerous. Photo: USFWS.

    An aerial view of a wildfire on Cudjoe that shows the fire's proximity to homes.
    This fire was accidently set by people on Big Pine Key, FL in May 2007.  Luckily, firefighters were able to quickly catch it and the only damage was from smoke to one of the adjacent homes. Photo: USFWS.

    A diagram showing how to remove palm fronds without damaging the palm.
    A simple illustration to demonstrate how to remove dead palm fronds without damaging the plant. Photo: USFWS

    Flammable vegetation next to a wooden house
    Double dangers:  Flammable vegetation too close to a wooden house could be impossible to extinguish.
    Last updated: October 27, 2011