Florida’s Wildfire Danger Increasing; Public’s Help Sought

March 10, 2009

Florida is experiencing twice the wildfire activity of a year ago and the danger is increasing every day, according to state officials.

Since Jan. 1, Florida has had 1,024 wildfires that have burned 24,730 acres, compared with 508 fires impacting 11,292 acres at the same time last year. Because the lightning season has yet to begin, virtually all of the fires that have occurred to date were caused by humans and were therefore avoidable, officials said.

Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson is urging residents to do their part to prevent wildfires by avoiding any unnecessary outdoor burning. They should also check with their local Division of Forestry office or county government to determine if there is a local burn ban in effect.

“Prevention is the key,” Bronson said. “We’re asking residents and visitors alike to exercise extreme caution when you use anything that involves fire or high heat. Before conducting any outdoor burning, check with officials to see if it is a dangerous burning day and if there is a local burn ban in effect.”

A lack of substantial rainfall, especially in Central and South Florida, coupled with recent freezes throughout the state, has left Florida’s vegetation ripe for wildfires. Wildfires can start easily, intensify quickly and move rapidly because of the current conditions.

Statewide, the Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI) currently stands at 520, well above normal for this time of the year. Moreover, the index shows that nearly half of Florida is well above the statewide average and is experiencing “severe” dry conditions. The KBDI measures available soil moisture and runs from 0 (saturated) to 800 (desert-like).

Additional tips for residents to help prevent wildfires include:

Never leave a campfire unattended.
Don’t throw cigarettes or other lighted material out of car windows.
Clear gutters of leaves and other debris, and remove vegetation from around homes, creating a 30-foot defensible space.
Do not park motor vehicles or equipment in areas where the hot catalytic converter could ignite grass, leaves or debris.

Source: Florida Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services

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