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Woodland Estates

Woodland EstatesIn less than a year, residents and landowners of Woodland Estates in Sarasota County, Florida organized and identified wildfire risks and made great strides addressing them. This culminated in their being recognized as a Firewise Communities/USA site. A local celebration in January 2007 honored the community and those who worked hard throughout the recognition process.

Woodland Estates is a private estate community located in Southern Sarasota County. It is consists of 34 properties---each of five to ten acres---with 23 existing homes and 63 residents. The residents of Woodland Estates are similar to other wildland/ urban interface homeowners and desire an authentic wildland aspect to be maintained in their neighborhood.

A hazard and wildfire risk assessment completed for Woodland Estates in early 2006 classified it as "Very High Hazard." Some of the items noted included:

  • Limited access to the development, as only a single ingress and egress road via a bridge across a canal existed
  • Limited turn-around space and water supply for emergency vehicles. This included three dead-end roads having less than 50 feet turn-around space and no municipal water supply or hydrants
  • Dense vegetation, including many highly combustible trees, shrubs and grasses
  • Little if any defensible space due to heavy growth. Many of the plantings were protected Florida flora.

Woodland EstatesA meeting to discuss a nearby-prescribed burn for the area identified several interested and motivated community residents. It was learned that a prescribed burn five years earlier had gotten out of control and threatened Woodland Estates. Although none of the properties were affected, the fire did require the evacuation of residents some were not able to make it out in time.

Several residents attended a Firewise Community workshop sponsored by Sarasota County in June 2006. As a result, a Firewise Committee of twelve Woodland Estates residents was formed, working under the guidance and direction of Florida Department of Forestry (DOF) staff. Within a month, a highly successful Firewise presentation was held for the community with 21 residents attending.

In October of that same year, DOF area supervisors performed neighborhood risk assessments with most of the property owners participating. Their goal was to significantly decrease the fire hazard risk to the community with the secondary benefit of the Firewise Committee working to develop a sense of community among Woodland Estates neighbors.

Woodland EstatesThe Committees action plan first implemented mechanical fuel mitigation in November/December 2006, with assistance from the DOF. This included adding or restoring firebreaks to allow fire and emergency personnel access to power lines and to areas where a fire or other emergency may place residents at risk. In addition, 30-foot defensible spaces were created around all structures with removal of thick heavy brush. Non-combustible addresses were placed on all properties, and driveway clearance was improved to allow access for larger vehicles. A dry hydrant was installed near a creek and the community worked to create an alternate emergency exit strategy near property owned by Sarasota County.

The Firewise Committee continues to keep all residents educated and informed by distributing literature and holding regular meetings. The Committee feels that the recognition of Woodland Estates as a Firewise Community/USA site, will serve as a stimulus for other residents to become more involved with wildfire mitigation efforts.

"This experience has been an uplifting example of how city, county, state and federal officials can successfully interact with each other even as private citizens achieve improved personal and community safety," said Patrick Mahoney, Wildfire Mitigation Specialist for the DOF. "Woodland Estates is extremely appreciative of all the help and reassurance given by all."