LABELLE, FL. -- Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson today
announced today that April 10 - 16 is "Wildfire Awareness Week" in Florida.
Designated by the Florida Cabinet in 1999, Wildfire Awareness Week is
observed each year during the second week of April, a time when the state
typically experiences an increase in the number and severity of wildfires.
So far this year, the level and distribution of rainfall has kept the
number of wildfires relatively low. However, the state has just begun what
is normally its driest period - April and May.
"Even though we have had an unusually wet spring, I encourage all
Floridians to be very careful with any outdoor fires," Bronson said.
Florida has a 12 month wildfire season because as little as two weeks
without rain at any time of year can result in forests and homes being
threatened by wildfires. The most active part of the year is December
through June. The greatest numbers of wildfires typically occur in
February, when killing freezes leave grass and brush dry and ready to burn,
but the largest wildfires usually occur in April and May, when much of
Florida experiences a spring drought.
This year, firefighters will have to deal with another factor that
threatens to make wildfires more difficult to control - the thousands of
dead trees uprooted by last year's hurricanes.
"Dead and dying trees and shrubs from the 2004 hurricanes and tropical
storms are now additional fuel for wildfires," Bronson said. "We could
have severe wildfires for several years to come because of the massive
amounts woody debris in our forests and wildlands."
Forestry officials are especially concerned that homeowners disposing of
hurricane debris may accidentally cause a wildfire.
"Escaped debris fires are a frequent cause of wildfires in Florida,"
Bronson said. "If you still have leaves and other debris from the 2004
storms, first consider using the lighter organic material for mulch, then
set larger pieces aside for curbside pickup if it is available. If you
still have debris to burn, contact the local office of our Division of
Forestry so you know how to burn safely and legally."
Since the beginning of the year, about 1,100 wildfires have burned
approximately 13,000 acres in Florida. Forty eight structures burned as a
result of the wildfires and 341 structures were saved. During the
disastrous wildfire season of 1998, 4,900 wildfires burned more than
506,000 acres and destroyed 330 structures.