It was a brief, if briefly spectacular, fire that sent flames soaring up a tree or two in the empty lot next to 41 Pacific Drive in Palm Cast’s P-Section in mid-afternoon Wednesday. A Palm Coast Fire Department engine happened to be in the area, coming back from another minor brushfire, and contained then put out the flames, along with another truck.
But the fire, which broke out in the lot at the end of Parish Place, a cul de sac, was a reminder of the increasingly dry conditions in the county, made more fire-prone as cold nights succeed dry days. The drought index in Flagler County is at 475, with 800 being the driest conditions and zero signifying saturated grounds. The index’s current reading is high enough that the Palm Coast Fire Department has its volunteers on stand-by, Fire Chief Mike Beadle said at the Pacific Drive fire this afternoon.
Beadle’s office had been getting calls all day to report an ominous column of smoke at what appeared to be the northern end of the county. But that has been a controlled fire at Faver-Dykes State Park nearer St. Augustine.
Unlike in the two previous years, the fires so far in 2013 in Flagler County have been relatively minor.
“I don’t like to say the word, the Q word,” Beadle said, fearing to utter the word quiet the way some people fear to speak the word cancer, though as superstitions go, a fireman’s tend to be more respectable than those of most churches. “We’ve only had a couple of small fires in the county. In the city, two or three, small.”
The Pacific Drive fire started as suddenly as most such fires do. “I couldn’t believe how in less than five minutes I went from smelling smoke to seeing flames up the tree,” a neighbor who called in the fire said. “I was sitting on my front porch and all of a sudden this billow of smoke came over.”
Oddly for the fire chief, he was–on two occasions–as if set upon by women in the neighborhood who wanted assurances that the flames would be put out all the way to the roots. The women did no less than tell the chief how fire can propagate, if not put out properly. One woman told Beadle of a time in St. Lucie when firemen failed to put out a fire properly, and several homes were demolished when it flared up again after the firemen had left. Beadle patiently reminded the women that he was here in 1998, when dozens of homes were obliterated by that season’s wildfires, and he assured them that his crews would take care of the empty lot’s flare-up.
By then, they already had, mostly, with all flames reduced to light white smoke. There was word that the lot may have been used by a homeless person. But fire officials dismissed the notion, finding the lot too thick with brush and fallen trees to make it passable for trails or man.
The Palm Coast Fire Police and the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office were also at the scene, with a small section of Pacific Drive closed to traffic–almost the same section that, the first day of the year, was the scene of an early morning fatal motorcycle accident.
It was not lost on some fire officials at the scene that April 12 will be the one-year mark of the day-long fire along Cypress Point Parkway in Palm Coast, near City Marketplace and the city’s administrative offices.
The fires have been few, but not victimless. Last week–and weeks after a brushfire had been put out in the same neighborhood–a fire in Rima Ridge, at the southern end of the county, demolished the home of Ron Walker, a volunteer fireman with Flagler County Fire Rescue, who’d retired from a career with the Volusia County Fire Department.