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Dry conditions boost wildfire risk around Tampa Bay

The state’s drought has parked Gary Cole’s boat on what used to be the shoreline of Lake Theresa in Spring Hill. On top of the dry conditions, recent freezing temperatures have killed more plant life, increasing the risk of brush fires.

RON THOMPSON | Times

The state’s drought has parked Gary Cole’s boat on what used to be the shoreline of Lake Theresa in Spring Hill. On top of the dry conditions, recent freezing temperatures have killed more plant life, increasing the risk of brush fires.

Burn brush with extreme caution and don't flick burning cigarettes out the car window, the state's Forestry Division is warning. The risk of wildfire is high for much of Florida.

The combination of dry weather and plants that died during the freeze have caused fire departments throughout south and central Florida to issue fire alerts. And we're only halfway through our dry period, said Terence McElroy, spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, which oversees forestry.

Monday night, firefighters in Hillsborough County battled a brush fire near a Kinder Morgan site off U.S. 41 south of Hartford Street, hampered by railroad tracks and chain link fences. Kinder Morgan is a pipeline transportation and energy storage company. No structures were at risk, said Hillsborough Fire Rescue Capt. Bruce Delk, but the blaze scorched about a mile of brush and sent a plume of smoke heading northwest toward Tampa.

In the Tampa Bay area, Hernando County has felt it the most. This year, Hernando Fire Rescue has faced 24 brush fires, including one Friday that burned 130 acres.

"We're seeing brush fires almost every day," said assistant fire Chief Frank DeFrancesco.

Pinellas faces less risk, with a drought index in the 300s and 400s on a scale of 0 to 800. Parts of east Hillsborough hover in the 500s — a stage at which brush fires can spread rapidly on a very dry ground — and much of Hernando is in the high 600s.

The humidity level is rising and it will actually start to feel muggy by Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service, and there's a better chance of rain toward the end of the week.

Avoiding
brush fires

To minimize wildfire risk, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has issued tips to residents and visitors.

• Never leave any fire unattended.

• Clear an area to bare soil for campfires, and be sure they are put out before you leave.

• Report any suspicious fire by calling 911.

• Do not burn yard waste during dry, windy conditions.

• Do not toss cigarettes or other lighted materials out of car windows.

Residents are also encouraged to protect their homes from fires by clearing leaves and pine needles from the roof and gutters, removing dead vegetation from around the home and trimming trees and limbs within 15 feet of a chimney.

Source: Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Dry conditions boost wildfire risk around Tampa Bay 02/09/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 10, 2009 9:10am]

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