Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Florida's Lake Okeechobee Catches On Fire

120 Acres Grass Fire Expanding In Lake North Of Lakeport

LAKEPORT, FL. -- Fires are burning in Lake Okeechobee, the 2nd largest freshwater lake in the U.S. The wildfire is the result of low water levels and lightning starting fires on the wild grasses growing from the lake bottom. It is feared the fires may increase to 12,000 acres if not controlled soon.

The southern Florida lake is 730 square miles in size, and the "Bass Fishing Capital Of The World."

Late Tuesday night, the Florida Forest Service was notified about a smaller 10-acre wildfire inside the levee of Lake Okeechobee presumably started by lightning. 

"Due to dry conditions, the lake level is down and very receptive to burning", said Melissa Yunas, Wildfire Mitigation Specialist with the Florida Forest Service. 

State & County Firefighters are patrolling the lake to make sure that fire is contained within the lake bed. There is minimal threat to the communities that border Lake Okeechobee including Lakeport, Buckhead Ridge and the city of Okeechobee. 

"Right now, the dry marsh and grass islands within the lake are burning and causing a smoke nuisance", Yunas said.

Wednesday Morning, the Florida Forest Service reported that the wildfire within the lake has increased to 120 acres. 

"The potential growth of this wildfire is up to 12,000 acres. The wildfires are burning slowly and crews are having difficulties accessing the wildfires", Yunas said. The wildfire is burning slowly and crews are having difficulties accessing the wildfire", Yunas said. 

The main concern is smoke on Glades County Road 78. CR 78 is not shut down, but Florida Highway Patrol troopers posted smoke advisory signs Wednesday morning. 

Smoke may create conditions where visibility on roadways is seriously impaired especially in the evening and early morning. Under these conditions drivers need to turn on low-beam headlights, slow down and be prepared to leave the roadway if conditions continue to deteriorate

The fire is named the Indian Prairie Fire and first reported Tuesday at 6 p.m.  The fire is between Hunter Road which is to the northeast of the fire and the Indian Prairie Canal. The nearest intersection is Tomato Grade Road.

Historically, when conditions are at their driest, as they are currently, the lake catches on fire. The last time the lake caught on fire was in 2008. 

The Florida Forest Service has been anticipating this scenario but they were expecting this earlier in the year when conditions were at their driest. 

The lake dries on the Southwest side exposing dry grass bottom. The grass dries out and easily catches on fire. In early 2011, the Army Corps of Engineers established fire breaks around the perimeter of the lake to eliminate fire spread from the roads and levees to enter inside the lake.

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