Sunday, December 17, 2017
News Roundup

No rain? Expect wildfires, and more of them

A dry winter has led to a dry spring. There's a crunch under your feet as you step across a field, and there's a crispiness to the air.

It's wildfire season. Dozens of fires have sparked across the state, but fire officials say this is a normal spring for Florida.

Simply put: When it gets dry in Florida, expect wildfires, said Chris Stokes, Florida Forest Service duty officer.

Careless burners, crispy conditions and sheer accidents snowball into dangerous conditions. Stokes said 90 percent of wildfires his department deals with are caused by people.

He cited one case in late March in which a man's lawn mower caught fire and triggered a burn over 10 acres.

The recent weather conditions — drier air, lower humidity levels and lack of rain — have also been "favorable" for brush fires, said National Weather Service meteorologist Paul Close.

The dead plants and dry brush that did not survive the freezing temperatures reported through March don't help either, Close said.

The weather service also issues red flag warnings when weather conditions are likely to cause a brush fire. Several warnings were in effect late last week and through the weekend, including in Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties, Close said.

March brought 18 fires across Pinellas, Hillsborough and Polk counties and burned 151 acres, Stokes said. Across Hernando, Pasco, Lake, Citrus and Sumter counties, there were 23 fires that burned 112 acres, said Donald Ruths, Florida Forest Service wildlife mitigation specialist.

While the Tampa Bay region has seen normal fire activity, Ruths said the state is slightly higher than normal.

He said part of the problem is that more people are outside doing spring projects, and that means more chances for accidents.

"Things have picked up considerably," he said. "It's extremely dry conditions right now."

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