Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

When Smoke Pairs with Dryness, That Means Beaches Discomfort

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

When Smoke Pairs with Dryness, That Means Beaches Discomfort

Article excerpt

Byline: Beau Halton

With the Northeast Florida coast shrouded this week in smoke from wildfires in Southeast Georgia as well as hot, dry weather, Beaches-area residents have had a double dose of dry, smoky discomfort.

But the two factors aren't related, said Jeremy Robshaw, St. Johns County fire rescue spokesman.

The smoky air "doesn't affect the dryness," Robshaw said. "It's just uncomfortable. It's more of a nuisance than anything.

St. Johns County extended a burn ban for 90 days this week because of lack of substantial rainfall, high temperatures, increased drought and significant wind, officials said. The ban prohibits the discharge of any fireworks.

"The burn ban is because of dryness," Robshaw said. "When you have high winds and low humidity, that makes a burn ban."

The ban pertains to residential outdoor burning of objects such as leaves, yard debris, fireworks of any kind, campfires and flares.

Campfires are allowed, but only within a metal ring and within a state park or licensed campground. Cooking fires within a barbecue grill, hibachi or similar device are also permitted.

A similar ban is not an issue in Duval County, because outdoor burning is always prohibited there, said Annaleasa Winter, state Division of Forestry spokeswoman.

The St. Johns County drought index this week was 682 on the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, which uses a scale of 0 to 800. Duval County's was 628 and Nassau County's was 659.

Weather conditions are not expected to improve in the near future, and fire danger is considered extreme, St. Johns County officials said. Also, the availability of firefighters and resources is low because of the significant number of active wildfires throughout the region and state.

St. Johns' coastal fire situation is riskier than that along Jacksonville's Beaches because of the numerous homes amid burnable vegetation, Winter said.

The risk factors "all depend on what part of the beach you're talking about," she said. In St. Johns, you have a lot of homes that are located in and around rugged coastal growth like palmettos that grow to 15 feet tall. …

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