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Lakewood is a small neighborhood in central Bradford County, Florida, located within and against the western corporate limits of the City of Starke. The community has a population of 52. Homes have been built on eighteen of the subdivisions lots.

LakewoodThe Lakewood tract of 175 acres fronts on 500-acre Crosby Lake and is divided into 51 half to 2.5 acre lots, including a fenced community lot with a dock and boat ramp, fifteen acres of roads and easements, and 100 acres of conservation lands.

Most of the Lakewood lots are undeveloped and have an abundance of medium to heavy fuels. These fuels are growing on top of, or in association with, organic soils (muck) of varying depths which, when dry, can burn and when combined with the fuels can be exceedingly difficult and expensive to extinguish.

LakewoodThe latest wildfire to threaten Lakewood was a 40-acre muck fire on its southern border in May 2002. The fire had smoldered for months before breaking out on the surface. Firefighting operations lasted over two weeks and involved more than 50 firefighters, and dozens of heavy machines. It cost the city and state hundreds of thousands of dollars. Except for the efforts of our volunteer fire departments, the Starke Fire Department, the Florida Division of Forestry, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and a contingency from the North Carolina Forest Service, this fire could have devastated the subdivision.

LakewoodAfter the fire, a wildland fire risk assessment was done with the Florida Division of Forestry's Wildfire Hazard Assessment Guide for Florida Homeowners. Lakewood received a score of 118, placing it in the very high hazard range. The following items contributed to the very high wildfire hazard score in Lakewood, listed in order of their importance:

  1. No pressurized or non-pressurized water system available.
  2. Thick, highly flammable vegetation on most lakefront lots and on three sides of the development.
  3. Only one entrance/exit.
  4. Narrow roads without drivable shoulders, dead ends and very small cul-de-sacs.
  5. Minimal defensible space around structures.
  6. Homes with wooden siding and roofs with heavy accumulations of vegetative debris.
  7. Half the lots are undeveloped.
  8. Large adjacent areas of forest or wildlands and high occurrences of wildfire in the general location.

After the assessment, Lakewood residents organized and:

  1. Sent delegations to two annual Firewise Retreats at the Division of Forestry Center in Brooksville.
  2. Approved entry into the Firewise Communities/USA program, filed an application and were approved.
  3. Held and organization meeting and elected a charter board, which includes Lakewood residents, owners, Division of Forestry and Starke Fire Department leaders, the City Commissioner, City Manager and County Emergency Management Director.
  4. Send a delegation to each City Council meeting and supported the commissioner in getting $120,000 allocated for the extension of water lines and fire hydrants to Lakewood
  5. Obtained Wildfire Hazard Mitigation Agreements from most owners that allowed the Division of Forestry to implement mitigation procedures, including prescribed burns and mowing as conditions permitted.
  6. Held its first annual Firewise Communities/USA clean up day and barbeque with more than 50 owners, Division of Forestry and Starke Fire Department officials.
  7. Publicized its Firewise program with press releases to the Bradford County Telegraph that were issued by the Division of Forestry.
  8. Amended the Declaration of Covenants to permit the removal of trees and undergrowth by owners---a 180-degree change from earlier rules.

When the above efforts were accomplished, a sense of community never before felt and enjoyed by the residents and owners of Lakewood emerged.

Tasks still left for Lakewood residents include:

  1. Extension of water main that will allow fire hydrants to be installed. The city has the money appropriated, but is requiring Lakewood to pay the engineering fees for installation. These are estimated at $15,000-$20,000 per household, plus a connect fee to the city. Some homeowners who have wells and septic tanks in place object to paying for this city service. It is hoped that a plan might be negotiated between the city and Lakewood owners to which both will agree.
  2. Continuing and extending monthly Firewise meetings and associated outreach efforts

In summary, Lakewood had its wake-up call with the May 2002 wildfire. Firewise Communities has provided good information, the Florida Division of Forestry, Starke Fire Department and the City of Stake have supported Lakewood's efforts. It is now time for the citizens of Lakewood to continue their good work.