Walton County officials want to see landscaping changes after massive fire destroys multiple homes

WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) – Firefighters are still investigating the cause of a fire that caused more than a million dollars in damage in South Walton on Wednesday.

However, South Walton Fire District officials said they learned a few things about why the fire spread so quickly from one house to four others nearby.

Massive fire in Walton County destroys several homes

SWFD chief Ryan Crawford said he wanted more fireproof options for homeowners and businesses.

“If we don’t do this, history will repeat itself,” said Crawford.

Crawford said he was already working on proposed changes to land development laws if homeowners choose landscaping.

“Here in South Walton, the landscape cover is popular – the pine straw is very popular,” Crawford said. “It’s aesthetically pleasing to the eye, people like it when it’s cheap for developers, but the problem is the fleeting bond it is when you put it in an open fire.”

The current district ordinances require natural landscape coverings. Crawford said pine straw not only fueled the fire on Wednesday, it also fueled a large part of the rapid spread of the Mussett-Bayou fire just over a year ago.

A year ago today, the Mussett Bayou forest fire destroyed homes and changed lives

“I just think it’s incredibly important that we focus on why we’re doing this,” said Crawford. “They know the forest fire was so devastating last year – we lost over 50 houses and we know that one of the main reasons it spread, along with wind and drought conditions, was the landscape.”

Crawford said he wanted to raise awareness of materials that are helping to spread these fires so quickly.

“In some of these areas, these large structures are built in close proximity to each other. So if you add that by putting the pine straw in between, we’ll lose the fight before we even make it. “There,” Crawford said.

Crawford said the problem wasn’t just limited to landscaping. He said he believed some building materials, such as wood shingles, were also responsible for spreading the fire on Wednesday.

“I know a lot of people think fire will never happen to them, but it’s a real risk and needs to be considered when building – when deciding what materials you’re going to use because those materials are flammable,” said Crawford.

Crawford said he’s not trying to ban pine straw landscaping. He said he wanted to give homeowners and businesses the opportunity to choose alternatives.

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