Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried has announced new rules for prescribed burns. She says some rules are being changed for the first time in three decades.
Fried explained the changes at a press conference Tuesday at the Capitol, adding each comes with the goal of added safety, for people and the environment.
“Adding (a review of the) air quality index to the authorization process, to protect air quality and reduce public impacts,” Fried told reporters. “Implementation of our new fire response system, to provide better real-time information for emergency responders in wildfires and easier-to-read, user-friendly fire maps for the public; and updates for our smoke plume predication tool to include the latest weather models.”
The Florida Forest Service regulates all prescribed burns in the state.
Last summer, a vendor used by the state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to perform prescribed burns caused a fire that destroyed dozens of homes in Franklin County’s small East Point community. The agency later suspended its prescribed burn program.
Fried also rolled out additional new prescribed burn rules that are specific to the sugar industry.
Among those are requirements of a minimum 80-acre buffer between wildlands and prescribed burns when winds are high, and the prohibition of nighttime burns during pre-harvest sugar cane burning process. The News Service of Florida reports sugar cane farmers perform burns between October and April to remove outer leaves of stalks before harvesting.
Jim Karels, director of the Florida Forest Service, was on hand to announce the changes alongside Fried.
“It’s a public safety issue, making sure the burners are at least two fields removed from any wildland area if the winds are greater than 25 miles per hour,” Karels said. “We don’t want a chance of the fire escaping.”
Fried says there could be more new rules to the program coming in the future, including the potential for a shorter prescribed burn season.