Melissa Yunas, a Wildfire Mitigation Specialist with the Florida Division of Forestry, has been detailed to Georgia for several weeks on a wildland fire known as the Honey Prairie Complex. Her regular duties are with the Okeechobee District, which includes Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River, Okeechobee, Highlands, and Glades Counties in Florida.
As a long-time Firewise proponent, a Firewise Leadership Award winner, and fire mitigation educator, Melissa knows a "Firewise save" when she sees one. She has generously shared the story (below) of Denny and Francine Alvarez as well as photos of their home in Waycross, Georgia, which survived an event called the Racepond fire just a few weeks ago.
“We got to go,” said Denny Alvarez to his wife Francine. On May 25, 2011, “the fire started four miles south and was roaring towards our house,” Denny explained. The couple was given an hour to pack up their valuables and animals. Denny explained that the “2007 fire was stressful but not as stressful as the Racepond fire. The wind was not in our favor.” The American Red Cross provided the Alvarezes a hotel room for two nerve-wracking nights. The phone rang on the 3rd day, a fire official called and said that “the house is exactly the way that you left it.”
The Alvarezes humbly thank all the agencies that pulled together to save their home. Firefighters believe that the couple played an important part in the success of saving their own home from the Racepond Wildfire. The couple followed the Firewise principles taught to them February 2011 by the Georgia Forestry Commission and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The agencies held six Firewise Workshops in three counties in Georgia. Mr. and Mrs. Alvarez attended the February 24, 2011 workshop.
“Denny is a fanatic about keeping the timberline neat and clean,” says Francine. The couple learned at the February 2011 workshop about the importance of keeping the yard lean, clean, and green. (1) Lean - Trim vegetation away from home. (2) Clean - No accumulation of dead vegetation or flammable debris. (3) Green - Less flammable plants that are healthy, watered and green during dry season. “Firewise Tips really made a difference in saving our home. If you have a chance to attend one of these Firewise Meetings, please do”, says Francine.
“This house has so many tales”, said Denny. “Taking the time and effort to protect it from a wildfire is important us. We have so many treasures that we have found in the swamp that we want to protect."
Melissa credited the Georgia Forestry Commission's Eric Mosley and Niki Jordan with outstanding public outreach and education efforts leading to the successful workshops and subsequent protection of the Alvarez home.