Thursday, May 07, 2009

Dry Weather Means Fires Likely

Conditions for Wildfires Should Spark Concern in Residents

By Mike Weston, Senior Forester, Division of Forestry

Saying it�s dry outside should not be a surprise for spring in southwest Florida.  However, as spring wildfire season transitions into the summer wildfire season, conditions by all forecasts are expected to keep southwest Florida in the bull�s eye for severe fire conditions until the rainy season starts in mid to late June.  For some perspective, Collier county is currently the driest county in the state according to KBDI measurements (measures soil moisture from 0-800 with 0 indicating extremely wet conditions and 800 indicating near desert conditions) at 728, with Hendry County right alongside at #2 driest with a KBDI reading of 716.  Lee County has received a tiny bit more rain and is at 629 on the KBDI.  By any measure, this is extremely dry, and much more than past years with very active fire seasons.

So far in 2009, the Division of Forestry has responded to 125 fires that have burned 2,100 acres.  Adding in numerous small wildfires that fire rescue districts and departments have responded to, and the large wildfire on federal lands surrounding Alligator Alley in Collier County, and the number of fires is closer to 250 or 300.  This means that on average there have been two wildfires per day in our area since January 1.  The number one cause of acres burned has been people burning landscape debris (yard trash) without consulting with their local fire rescue district or the Division of Forestry. 

All residents in southwest Florida need to practice extreme caution any time they are using something that can produce a flame or spark.  Only together can we work to make this fire season as safe as possible.  Go ahead and finish any work to complete the 30 feet of defensible space around your house.  Mow tall dried grass if possible and trim out dead plant material.  On rural lands, make sure firelines are clean and recently disced.  Fires, once started, can move extremely fast, leaving little time to prepare for the onslaught of flames.  Preparation must be done in advance.

The biggest wildcard this fire season, as with every fire season, will be the amount and specific strike locations of lightning as our thunderstorms return to the area.  Mother nature will provide a spark, so everyone needs to have defensible space or managed natural areas and forest land surrounding them to keep safe from wildfires.

For more information go to Firewise homes are safer homes.

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