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Smoky wildfire near East Lake is a warning to get ready for the dry season

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Published Jun. 4, 2019

EAST LAKE — Firefighters were battling a 17-acre brush fire in the Brooker Creek Preserve on Tuesday that's pushing smoke into some East Lake neighborhoods.

No homes were threatened, said Florida Forest Service spokesman Todd Chlanda. But the moisture in the area is creating smokier conditions than usual.

"It's burning in kind of a wet area," he said, "and with that moisture being held in by that, it doesn't really burn that well. It smolders."

The blaze was about 80 percent contained, the Florida Forest Service said late Tuesday. The fire's location among large trees and dense vegetation made it difficult for firefighters to get equipment to the source of the flames. The cause of the fire is still unknown.

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North of Pinellas, the Forest Service is monitoring some wild fires burning in Pasco and Hernando counties. They were all small blazes that firefighters easily contained, said Judi Tear, a spokesman for the forest service division that oversees those counties.

While all the fires are relatively minor, Tear said, they serve as a reminder that residents should start taking precautions. A wet winter brought a later dry season than usual. But conditions have been drying out the last few weeks.

"Every day we don't have significant rain, those fire fuels are getting drier and drier," she said.

The Tampa Bay area will see some rain starting Wednesday, said National Weather Service meteorologist Richard Rude. Moisture from the Gulf of Mexico will fuel isolated to scattered rain and thunderstorms for the rest of the week. That activity will pick up over the weekend.

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But with thunderstorms come lightning, and that could increase the chances of more fires depending on how it's paired with precipitation, Tear said. In her district, which covers five counties including Hernando and Pasco, lightning was the No. 2 cause of fires last year, behind human activity.

"Rain is a good thing," she said, "but when it's spotty rain accompanied by lightning, fire activity could increase."

Tear recommended that residents trim any shrubbery or branches that touch the roof or is within five feet of a home. She added that it's important to fully extinguish outdoor fires, lest they start larger ones.

She said residents can find more tips at the state's website: freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Florida-Forest-Service.

Times staff writer Kavitha Surana contributed to this report. Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or kvarn@tampabay.com. Follow @kathrynvarn.