Walton County officials want to see landscaping changes after massive fire destroys multiple homes

Local News

WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — Firefighters are still searching for the cause of a fire that caused more than a million dollars in damages on Wednesday in South Walton.

However, South Walton Fire District officials said they have learned a few things about why the fire spread so quickly from one home to four others nearby.

SWFD Chief, Ryan Crawford, said he’d like to see more fire-safe options become available for homeowners and businesses.

“If we don’t address this, history is going to repeat itself,” Crawford said.

Crawford said he’s already working on proposed changes to land development codes when homeowners choose landscape covering.

“Here in South Walton, the landscape cover is popular — the pine straw is very popular,” Crawford said. “It’s aesthetically pleasing to the eye, people like it it’s inexpensive for developers to put down but the problem is the volatile compound that it is when you introduce it to open flame.”

The current county ordinances require all-natural landscape coverings. Crawford said pine straw not only fueled Wednesday’s fire, but it was also a big part of the rapid spread of the Mussett Bayou Fire a little over a year ago.

“I just think it’s incredibly important that we stay focused on why we’re doing this,” Crawford said. “You know last year’s wildfire as devastating as that was — we lost an excess of 50 homes and we know one of the main reasons that propagated asides from the wind and drought conditions was because of the landscape covering.”

Crawford said he wants to raise awareness about materials that help spread these fires so rapidly.

“In some of these areas, these large structures are built in close proximity to each other and so when you add that into the piece with having the pine straw spread out in between them, we’re kind of losing the battle before we ever get there,” Crawford said.

Crawford said the problem isn’t just restricted to landscaping items. He said he believes some building materials, like wood shake shingles, were also responsible for spreading Wednesday’s fire.

“I know a lot of folks think fire will never happen to them, but it’s a real risk and it needs to be part of the consideration when you’re building — when you’re deciding what materials you’re going to use because these materials are combustible,” Crawford said.

Crawford said he’s not trying to prohibit landscaping with pine straw. He said he wants to empower homeowners and businesses with the ability to choose alternatives.

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