Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

NE Florida Wildfire Season Is Coming as Forestry Service Does Prescribed Burns to Head It Off

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

NE Florida Wildfire Season Is Coming as Forestry Service Does Prescribed Burns to Head It Off

Article excerpt

Byline:

The heat's been on in some state forests in Northeast Florida lately, despite the frigid temperatures of recent weeks.

State forestry crews have been systematically burning dead underbrush in an effort to prevent wildfires over the next few months.

The hazard reduction burns were done in recent days after forestry firefighters fought 49 wildfires in Florida in the first week of 2018, a number that jumped to 97 as of Wednesday.

Due to two periods of hard freezes that killed grass and trees, the wildfire danger index for Duval and Nassau counties is "high," with St. Johns, Clay and Putnam in the "moderate" range, Florida Forest Service wildfire mitigation specialist Annaleasa Winter said.

"If we burn it now, we have a good three to five years before we worry that property will catch fire again," Winter said. "We are focusing on areas close to communities and state forests, and if we can't burn it, we will mow it. Our meteorologist is saying the weather we are looking at translates into more wildfires, and that is due to drier conditions. The state is not dry yet. It is wet, but we are still having increased fires and we have yet to dry out."

Last year was a very busy year for Forest Service firefighters, with 3,271 wildfires suppressed that left 298,760 acres charred. That included 52 homes and six businesses destroyed statewide, according to state statistics. In the Jacksonville district, firefighters battled 119 wildfires in 2017 that burned 2,340 acres.

While the fire drought index is very low, Winter said the area is closing in on its peak fire season. Anything can set off a wildfire, from a car's hot exhaust system parked on dry grass to a cigarette butt tossed from a car window into a grassy median. …

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