SARASOTA COUNTY - Red flag warnings have been issued for much of the Suncoast. Currently, Manatee, DeSoto, and Sarasota counties are the driest in the state, prompting concerns a major wildfire could take place at any moment.
Residents in North Port have special challenges when it comes to dry conditions: a lot of homes and a lot of undeveloped lots…and not a lot of fire hydrants. They've come up with some unique ways around that.
"We are on heightened alert right now," says Michael Frantz with North Port Fire Rescue.
With water levels low and vegetation dry, first responders are gearing up. They’re ready to act at a moment’s notice if a wildfire calls -- especially with their brush trucks. "This is the beast. It will go through or over pretty much anything."
The city has four of the trucks, and they have their own stories to tell. “They were in the military; they were over in Iraq at one time. They were brought over here and loaned to us," says North Port fire medic Kevin Barnes.
The Kaiser Jeep trucks were built in the 60's and put together more like tanks than trucks -- try six wheel drive. "They are useful for getting back into the woods…off road and off the street," says Barnes.
They were given to the Division of Forestry and are then rented to the city for a dollar a year. "We paint them and maintain them, fix them up with water tanks and hoses and generators."
From fighting for freedom to fighting fires at a moment’s notice…ready to roll. "We really want to stay on top of it, because it can spread so fast and because we have so many houses interspersed in these wild land areas," says Frantz.
The trucks are able to pump out 500 gallons of water, which is needed for the unique terrain found in parts of the city -- much of which is without hydrants. "You have a house and a half a dozen lots, then a house and half a dozen lots. Most of those lots are very much overgrown. People bought them back in the 60's and don't even know they own them anymore."
A needed tool these days where we've seen that it doesn't take much to ignite. "Pretty much anything can start a fire, and the wildfire is going to spread. We are in extreme drought conditions."
They also have other trucks which carry 5,000 gallons. They arrive on scene and can supply the water the other trucks need to continuously run.