About 1,200 acres of saw palmettos, oaks and other plants were killed when Hurricane Matthew flooded them with seawater. Now they're a fire hazard, according to county officials.
Large swaths of seaside plants that were washed over with salt water during Hurricane Matthew are now dead, dry and a fire hazard, according to county staff.
"Sea water has desiccated or killed a large portion of the vegetation," Flagler County Land Manager Tim Telfer said. "Nobody's quite sure what is going to happen from this point forward."
Most of it, he said, will probably not regrow anytime soon.
To reduce the fire risk, Flagler County has started a project with the Florida Forest Service to create "defensible space" on county land on the barrier island, separating vacant county land from people's homes.
But there's a problem: Some of the areas that create the greatest risk are on private land, and the county doesn't have a mechanism to clear that land or to get property owners to do it.
Meanwhile, the county has gotten complaints from concerned residents who want the county's enforcement officers to cite property owners who don't get rid of dead vegetation on their properties, Telfer said.
The affected area covers about 1,200 acres on the barrier island, as far south as MalaCompra Park and as far north as Marineland, Telfer said.
The county is also seeking a $50,000 grant to install 27 miles of fire defense lines throughout the county, and could speed that process if it gets the grant — and cooperation from landowners.
The county, he said, has four options:
- Have vegetative abatement officers go out and proactively cite problem properties, creating a process similar to the process used for code enforcement;
- Have urban foresters respond to complaints about properties and begin an abatement process, but without proactively searching for problem properties;
- Do a one-time survey of the barrier island to identify "properties of concern," then send the landowners a non-punitive letter urging them to correct the problem, or;
- Continue on its current path of outreach with the Florida Forest Service, without implementing new programs.
The first two proposals would require adding staff. County staff is recommending that the county move forward with the third option — sending a non-punitive letter.
The letter would also notify landowners that if they remove trees that the county considers a fire risk, they would not be at risk of being fined or having to provide a replacement tree.
The acres and acres of dead brush are a particular problem because the county is exiting a weak La Nina period, Telfer said, meaning that the county has had a warmer and drier winter than normal, and lower humidity.