Gov. Scott Touring Flagler Fires at 4 p.m. After Declaring Emergency and Activating Guard
FlaglerLive | June 14, 2011
Last Updated: 7:32 a.m.
Gov. Rick Scott late Monday issued Executive Order 11-128 declaring a state of emergency statewide “due to the ongoing danger of wildfires and drought conditions that continues to threaten the state of Florida.”
Scott is scheduled to be at Flagler County’s Emergency Operations Center at 4 p.m. for a briefing, followed by a tour of the fires. Scott was scheduled to be at an Enterprise Florida luncheon earlier in the day (at Orlando International Airport’s Hyatt Regency). The News Service of Florida confirmed the governor’s schedule Monday evening.
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Flagler County’s Espanola fire is the first fire that Scott’s executive order singles out in a brief list that also mentions 600 acres in the Florida portion of a wildfire that started in Georgia, burning 168,423 acres there before creeping across the border, and fires in Levy County burning 4,594 acres. A brush fire in the Everglades area of inland Miami-Dade, near the Miccosukee Indian Reservation, has been burning since June 5, charring an estimated 68,000 acres.
There are some 310 active wildfires in the state, burning 115,583 acres, according to the Division of Forestry.
The declaration places the state Division of Emergency Management in charge of the emergency. That means that Bryan Koon, the director of emergency management, now has the authority to coordinate assignments of firefighting aid requested by the Division of Forestry throughout the state.
“I place all aviation and other firefighting resources under the operational authority of the Division of Forestry while this Executive Order remains in effect, and I designate the Director of the Division of Forestry as Incident Commander for this emergency,” Scott’s order reads. “All state, regional, and local governmental agencies shall place any and all available resources under the direction of the State Coordinating Officer to support the Division of Forestry and other firefighting agencies in controlling the wildfires.”
How that translates to the command structure of the fires in Flagler County is unclear at the moment. The Division of Forestry has been battling the Espanola fire, which crossed the 4,000-acre mark today. Flagler County’s fire department, along with Flagler Beach and Bunnell, have been battling about a dozen fires or more across the county, and responding to new break-outs. A state “incident management team” has been coordinating the effort through the county’s Emergency Operations Center in Bunnell.
The governor also activated the National Guard, ordering air and ground resources to be made available to he Division of Forestry to battle wildfires and to maintain the resources “in a state of immediate operational readiness.” In essence, all state, county and municipal agencies’ air and ground resources, including law enforcement aircraft, are under the “operational authority” of the Division of Forestry.
The long-awaited executive order, the governor’s office said, “ensures state, regional, and local governments can take necessary actions to protect the lives and property of the people in threatened communities.”
The order should make it easier for the governor to compel a federal emergency declaration, which would then release Federal Emergency Management Agency support–and reimbursements: landowners could apply for some relief funds as compensation for burnt timber, and local governments would have overtime and other costs reimbursed. Flagler County’s overtime costs are running around $40,000 a week, those of Palm Coast around $10,000 a week.
It’s not just fire: the executive order notes that drought condition and persistently dry conditions may make matters worse in weeks ahead as the summer heat intensifies and a pattern of dry weather endures.
“Because of the foregoing conditions, I declare that the ongoing danger of wildfires continues to threaten the State of Florida with a major disaster, and that as a consequence of this danger a state of emergency exists in the State of Florida,” the order reads.
Over the next 30 days, the order gives state, regional and local governments authority to waive or deviate from state law or regulatory rules “to the extent that such actions are needed to cope with this emergency, including, but not limited to, any and all statutes, rules or orders which affect budgeting, leasing, printing, purchasing, travel, conditions of employment, and the compensation of employees.”
The order also activates the so-called he Emergency Management Assistance Compact (“EMAC”), among other compacts between Florida and other states, enabling the management of other states’ resources, once lent to Florida, to be under the authority of the state management system. Those resources, once they enter Florida, are exempt from taxes and fees, such as those imposed at weigh stations.
All local government and law enforcement agencies are also ordered to identify personnel that may be of help in the emergency. That personnel is then placed under the authority and command of the state coordinating officer.
The order also covers pharmacists, who are “authorized to dispense up to a 30-day emergency prescription refill of maintenance medication to persons who reside in an area or county covered under this executive order and to emergency personnel who have been activated by their state or local agency but who do not reside in an area or county covered by this executive order.”