Wildfires Spark Emergency Declaration

Apr 11, 2017

Governor Rick Scott is declaring a state of emergency as more than a hundred wildfires flare across the state. With drought conditions spreading and more hot weather ahead, there’s little indication the blazes will slow down.

A 2009 wildfire burns through a cypress prairie at Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.
Credit Josh O'Connor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via flickr / https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwssoutheast/

Governor Rick Scott’s emergency declaration comes just days after a brushfire swept across St. George Island. Mason Bean is a volunteer firefighter in the small resort community.

“We had a neighbor that was just burning trash in his backyard that got away about 2:30 in the afternoon. We got the call. We thought it was just going to be a simple brushfire and an easy knockdown. But the wind kicked up, a lot of fuel, and the next thing you know we just can’t seem to run it down,” Bean said.

The fire is still smoldering on the island. Just last week another fire broke out along International Drive in Orlando. Local resident Allison Jones filmed the smoke drifting towards Disney and Universal Studios.

“This is nuts. On our way home from Legoland there’s this huge brush fire that’s near Disney. And here comes a helicopter bringing water in for the brushfire,” Jones said.

And a series of fires have plagued Collier County, burning along Alligator Alley, a major highway running from Naples to Fort Lauderdale. These are just some of the most recent flare-ups.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam oversees the state's Forest Service. 

“Well we are currently working over 107 fires statewide. There is no corner of the state that is not facing severe wildfire conditions. Totally nearly 24,000 acres,” Putnam said.

"There is no corner of the state that is not facing severe wildfire conditions."

Putnam says this year’s weather conditions make for a perfect storm.

“So the record rainfall that we had last year causes everything to bloom and to grow and to take off. And when it stops raining, now you have a woods full of kindling,” Putnam said.

Now add humans to that mix.

Jim Karels heads the Florida Forest Service and he says most forest fires are caused by people.

“Think about what you’re doing, whether its equipment you use or where you park your vehicle in the grass anymore. Throwing cigarettes out. Absolutely in these dry conditions…campfires…all of it, just be careful,” Karels.

Putnam is urging residents to be cautious and obey burn bans in place in Nassau, Seminole, Polk, Osceola, Okeechobee, Glades and Hendry Counties.

“Don’t be that person that thinks the rules don’t apply to you. And you end up costing your neighbor their property, their home, and putting our firefighters’ lives at risk, and your fellow Floridians’ lives at risk,” Putnam said.

Jim Karels wants to get the human-caused fires under control now, before summer lightning storms bring more flare-ups.

“We know the lightning is coming. Florida is the lightning capital of the world. Come April, come May, June and July, the lighting is going to hit this state hard as it does every year. And the drought really intensifies that, because then you start to see a lot of these fires from the lightning,” Karels said.

In the meantime, the governor’s emergency declaration will make it easier for the state to share resources and fight the fires.