Want to know whether your home is next to a hot spot for wildfire?
One of the easiest ways to find out is by checking a new map posted online that offers users the choice of searching by address or cruising via cursor across a neighborhood or region.
"It paints a picture for a homeowner of whether they do have a risk or not," said State Forester Jim Karels of the Florida Forest Service. "When they do see they are a high-risk area, they are more likely to see what they have to do to deal with the situation."
The interactive map, at SouthernWildfireRisk.com, was developed by the state forest service and the Southern Group of State Foresters, which includes members from 13 Southeastern states.
Called the Southern Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal, or SouthWRAP, the map is billed as the first of its kind. It takes a few minutes to get the hang of how to search locations and obtain risk details.
Previously available maps online are based primarily on weather conditions and provide a snapshot of whether a region is soggy because of plentiful rain or has been dried out by drought and will combust easily.
SouthWRAP is different in that it takes into account the type of terrain, whether highly burnable timber or scrub, or less flammable swamp, cleared areas or asphalt. Also incorporated into risk levels are wildfire history and some weather data.
The mapping program spits out standard categories of information that don't always take into account the dominant features of a given location.
Yet both those properties are deemed by the map to have low or moderate risk of wildfire, with possible flame heights of 2 to 8 feet.
The mapping system is more adept at displaying the risk of wildfire where urban and suburban developments border forests and brush land that, in some cases, have a potential risk for "high to very high fire intensity" and for "very large flames up to 150 feet in length."
At the other end of the scale, wetlands, cleared land and urban areas may have "a minimal chance of being directly impacted by a wildfire."
When first opened online, the map displays the Southeast from Texas to Virginia. Zooming down to Florida reveals that the largest areas of high risk are forests in the Panhandle, Ocala National Forest north of Orlando and the Everglades in South Florida.
Those regions are displayed in red and orange; the least risky places for wildfire are green and blue.
Zooming further reveals the state is a mosaic of a seemingly infinite number of blue-through-red properties.
The map data now available are tailored to homeowners. A version for professionals will go live this month.
"It gives risk information to not just the individual homeowner but to community planners and emergency responders," Karels said. "It wakes them up so they can say, 'Let's look into what we really need to do to take care of ourselves and to make sure if fire does come, we are ready for it.'"
©2014 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)