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Meteorologists warn of wildfire risks around Florida and Tampa Bay

With two major wildfires under way in Florida, authorities warn that one of the driest periods in state history is likely to lead to more fires than usual.

"The potential is there, anywhere in Florida, to get a large fire," said Sean Luchs, a meteorologist with the Florida Division of Forestry.

A rainy January and a wet start to February left Tampa Bay better off than much of Florida, meteorologists say.

The risk of wildfires is moderate to low around Tampa Bay, said the Florida Division of Forestry. That's better than much of Florida, especially the east coast and parts of South Florida, where risk is moderate to very high.

Firefighters were battling a wildfire in north Brevard and south Volusia counties that burned more than 17,500 acres by Thursday morning. Another fire, in St. Johns County, burned about 1,100 acres but was mostly contained Thursday.

Florida is among the top 10 states for the number of fires and acres burned, says the Institute for Business and Home Safety, a Tampa nonprofit group.

Tampa Bay has seen several brush fires recently.

In 2010, Florida had the driest July to December on record, Luchs said. Even with a wet January, rainfall is still below normal.

Tampa Bay had an extremely hot summer followed by a dry fall. Winter also started off dry and cool before several fronts brought above-normal amounts of rain. Freezes contribute to the fire risk by killing off vegetation, providing fuel for wildfires.

Also making conditions more risky was the absence of tropical systems to drench the land and replenish water supplies, said Mike Clay, Bay News 9's senior meteorologist.

Tampa Bay is expected to be generally warm and dry for the next couple of months, said Bay News 9 meteorologist Juli Marquez, noting there hasn't been much rain since mid February.

The next chance of rain is Sunday, then late next week. Overall, Marquez said, there will be more dry days than wet.

January to June typically has the most wildfires, Luchs said.

Danny Valentine can be reached at dvalentine@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8804.

Meteorologists warn of wildfire risks around Florida and Tampa Bay 03/03/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 3, 2011 11:16pm]
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