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Pioneer Plantation

Pioneer PlantationBackground Information: Pioneer Plantation is located in Hendry County. It lies approximately 14 miles east of LaBelle and 2.74 miles south of SR 80. Pioneer Plantation is small (approximately 400 residents) and is a classic wildland/urban interface community. It has been rated as a high wildfire hazard area by the local district of the Florida Division of Forestry (DOF). Fires in this community have been severe, concentrated and have threatened many homes.

Fuel type and density increases potential for wildland fire. Many areas of the community have thick duff layers and saw palmetto over eight feet in height. This fuel, coupled with poor defensible space, few fuel breaks and over-use of combustible building materials, has contributed to the high fire danger in Pioneer Plantation.

Pioneer PlantationMitigation Planning and Operations: Planning for fuel mitigation in the Pioneer Plantation area began several years ago with a cooperative effort between the DOF, the Pioneer Plantation Volunteer Fire Department and a small group of community residents. Following discussions on the needs of the area, a grant was written by DOF to obtain National Fire Plan funding for a fuel reduction initiative. The request was funded and work on the project began in 2003. Money received from the grant was leveraged by use of mitigation funding from the state, in kind services from Hendry County and in kind services from community volunteers. Mitigation work concentrated on opening and widening existing right of ways in the community. This provided needed fuel breaks and a means of assisting the local fire department to get to wildfires more quickly using the more direct right of ways created. The initial right of way work was finished in 2004. Grant money and state funds were also used to create areas of defensible space around some of the high risk homes.

Pioneer PlantationResidents of Pioneer Plantation realized that community education and awareness would contribute to lowering the impact of their wildfire risk. A community representative attended the first Firewise Community/USA weekend workshop and started planning a homeowner workshop as a Firewise Community project. In preparation for this event, Board members staged a Firewise Day during which they provided information and Firewise brochures to residents throughout the community. After the Board’s successful door-to-door campaign, nearly 25% of the community residents attended the February 9th workshop.

Community Firewise Plan: The Firewise Board realizes that two things are necessary to increase the probability that their homes can withstand a wildfire disaster. Continued fuel mitigation (either mechanically or with prescribed fire treatment) and community integration of Firewise principles---especially defensible space---are required. Fuel migitation requires continued cooperative work with the DOF. Integration of Firewise principles depends on continued community education, encouragement and support. To achieve those goals, the Board recommends the following actions and ideas:

  1. Implement a community newsletter to help spread the Firewise message. Board members have already developed a complete mailing list for residents as a beginning.
  2. Construct an information board near the community’s mail boxes to display Firewise information.
  3. Work closely with the local DOF ranger to help coordinate fuel reduction and management projects with the DOF.
  4. Use “Florida Firewise Home” lawn signs provided through DOF’s mitigation programs to draw attention to good Firewise examples.
  5. Distribute Firewise brochures at HOA meetings.
  6. Apply for additional funding and grants to assist with mitigation and fuel reduction projects.

The Board feels that the recognition of Pioneer Plantation by the Firewise Community/USA program will serve as a stimulus to the community to be more involved in the wildfire solution. Because of its isolation and independence, community organization, education and change is not something that will happen overnight. Rather, it will take time and energy of the Board members as well as other active community members. Pioneer Plantation has already made progress.

Funding for the Pioneer Plantation Firewise Community project has already exceeded the required amount of $2/capita. Mitigation assistance provided by the DOF exceeded $15,000. Additionally, the HOA and Arson Alert contributed $300 to the Living on the Edge community workshop. Preparation of the workshop materials and its presentation, time spent at the workshop itself, and initial meetings and the community assessment by DOF staff added another $560 in kind services. Pioneer Plantation’s total investment exceeds $15,860.