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As With Hurricanes, Officials Want Floridians To Prepare For Increased Wildfire Dangers

MGN Online

Hurricane season may have just started, but Florida officials are also warning Floridians about the increased risk of wildfire danger around this time of year.

“We’re going to break up into two groups,” said Eric Staller to his team of fire ecologists. “We’re going to have the ignition crew, which will be Caroline and Kevin, and then we’ll have a Holding Crew, which will be Jerome, Ron, and Jason. So, let’s get our tools and let’s head out to the unit.”

Staller, the land Manager at Tall Timbers Research Station in Tallahassee, and his team plan out prescribe burns and study its impact on the eco-system.

Prescribed burns are controlled burns that have a positive impact on vegetation and can help reduce the risk of wildfire, which is the unplanned fire than can damage huge forest areas.

“What we like about prescribed fires is it reduces wildfire risk,” stated Staller, last year. “We are getting into wildfire season, and places that have wildfires are places where prescribed fires are not being maintained on a frequent level.”

Places like swampy areas and near very populated areas have less frequent prescribed burning, for instance.

Florida wildfires, meanwhile, can occur year-round, but during this time of year, there is an increased risk, as it gets into the drier months.

“So, we are in a drier pattern than we have been over a lot of parts of the states, and it may be in secluded areas, but we still have possibility for wildfires in some of these areas,” said Ronda Sutphen.

Sutphen, the Wildfire Prevention and Mitigation Coordinator for the Florida Forest Service, says Floridians should also watch out for increased lightning activity.

Thunderstorms and excessive lightning have already sparked wildfires in several coastal areas of the state. And, lightning accounts for about a fourth of Florida’s annual wildfire activity.

“Well, this time of year, we start to see more of the high pressured systems, where we have the afternoon showers,” added Sutphin. “A lot of times it’s along the edge of the sea breeze and those showers are more of a pop up type of a shower to where they have more lightning and less rainfall. So, there’s more chance of wildfires to start this time of year from lightning strikes.”

Hurricane season just started, and Sutphen says the storms usually bring rain, which can help wildland firefighters. But, she adds just like with a hurricane, Floridians should always have a plan in case of wildfire danger.

“Along the lines of the hurricanes is to be prepared,” she continued. “So, you want to have a kit ready to go and an action plan for your family and your pets if you need to evacuate, whether it’s from a wildfire or a hurricane. So, you need the same type of supplies as you would in a hurricane kit. So, we encourage people to go ahead and get both of those kits ready and be prepared for either one that may happen.”

And, she adds they are asking the public to exercise caution with all outdoor fires due to the increased risk.

“We’d like people to just be careful with what they do, recreating outside and they’re cooking and barbecuing,” Sutphen concluded. “Be careful with your coals, where you get rid of those. And, if you’re burning yard debris, cleaning up your yard, never leave a fire unintended. Be cognizant of the weather and the weather conditions. If it’s dry and if it’s windy, don’t burn.”

Sutphen adds if anyone sees a fire or even a potential wildfire, report it to your nearest Florida Forest Service office or call 911.

There are about 57 active wildfires currently burning throughout Florida. Since January, the Florida Forest Service has already responded to 1,200.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.