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PORT ST. LUCIE
Port St. Lucie, Florida
Lat: 27°16'33.00"N Lon: 80°21'18.00"W
When I heard we’d be doing a swing through southern Florida I was psyched. It’s been a long season and Florida is sun, fun and bikini-clad babes, right?? Well, not on Off Limits (I was just…kind of…hoping). However, if there was any measure of self-pity, it quickly went right up in smoke. Literally.

I’m no arsonist but I enjoy a good fire. Dates back to those wintry nights at home by the hearth, staring at the crackling flames and the orange, oaken embers. Toasty comfort and good family times—I mean fires are fun!

Just not in conflagrations of 2,000 degrees.

Florida Forestry Service manages 1.1 million acres of forestlands in the Sunshine State and has the unenviable task of keeping million-dollar properties (among others) from becoming really big campfires. In 1998, those efforts became even more extreme. Wildfires that summer destroyed about 150 homes, around $390,000,000 in timber, and cost more than $130,000,000 to suppress. And that was fourteen years ago; there have been many more, less radical episodes since. As man and nature grow ever closer in proximity, the Forestry Service becomes more wary of the inevitable consequence. They’ve now taken regular measures to try and mitigate the trouble.

A few years back a “Prescribed Burn” program was instated, reversing the traditional fire-suppression that had been the Service’s policy for decades. In suppressing wildfires throughout the state for such a long time, dense vegetation was growing out of control and becoming a constant fire-threat. A lightning strike or an arsonist’s match can set the oil-rich palmettos and bone-dry grasses instantly ablaze, like a pile of gasoline-soaked rags in the corner of your garage; best to dispose of them ASAP.

Near Port St. Lucie, Fla., I took part in one such burn and was astonished to see such a remarkable system in action. It is a HUGE day of work for the crews that undertake these burns, staring into thousand-degree flames leaping tens of feet into the air. Things move fast and furiously. They are, in most cases, aided by a flame-dropping helicopter, there to intensify the process up even more. These guys had plans on my lucky day to take out more than 700 acres of wilderness. Between the process of burning it and putting out the flames again, the thought was to be finished well before dinnertime. As it happened, the winds picked up too much and made it impossible for the copter to operate, so our burn was curtailed after a short while. But not before I witnessed bold men and women dressed in the green and yellow duds of the Forest Service perform their duty with absolute dedication and determination. I was truly moved by what I saw and by whom I met. Besides being such good citizens, firemen exude an air of indefatigability. They are just so cool! It seems to come with the territory. Me, I just tried to help—mostly by not catching myself on fire. It is so embarrassing when that happens.
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