Burning plan aids wildfire reduction

Burning plan aids wildfire reduction

25 November 2008

published by www.bradenton.com

USA — California has recently seen first hand the devastation of wildfires burning out of control.

To preclude a similar catastrophe locally, controlled burns of brush areas are sometimes carried out in coordination with the Division of Forestry and local fire departments.

Controlled burns help prevent wildfires in areas where fuel for the fire has already been destroyed, said Patrick Mahoney, wildlife mitigation specialist for the Florida Division of Forestry.

“Having a controlled burn is good for the ecosystem. It’s good for fire management. Florida’s ecosystem depends on fire,” he said.

Among areas where controlled burns are scheduled are the 100 square miles of Lakewood Ranch.

With cold fronts coming in during this time of year, freezes kill vegetation, making it the perfect fuel for fire. People should be careful with open flames, watch where they park their cars, and clear gutters and the brush away from their homes.

“There’s a lot of areas that are really dry right now,” Mahoney said. “We’re asking people to be very careful.”

The state is a lot drier than it was a year ago, according to the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, which measures wildfire potential on a scale ranging from 0 to 800.

The drought index for Florida on Monday was 515, compared to last year at 392. Manatee County registered at 561, up from 455 last year.

The Myakka River District, which includes Manatee, Hardee, DeSoto, Charlotte and Sarasota counties, has already begun to experience fire activity, Mahoney said. Typically, dry season begins in late December and runs to June, while fire season begins at the end of February and goes through March, he said.

“Over the summer, we received a lot of rain and it helped a lot, but I feel we’re still seeing a deficit from the last two years,” Mahoney said.

Rainfall for the past two months has been below normal, said Anthony Reynes, meteorologist with National Weather Service in Ruskin.

In October, the area received 1.60 inches of rain, 1.28 inches below normal. November so far is worse with only .24 inches of rain reported — 1.55 inches below normal.

“These last two months have been almost half the amount of inches that we normally receive,” Reynes said.

“We certainly have to watch the water resources. When we see trends of rain going down, we know there are probably going to be problems,” he said. “We have to see if this trend continues.”

People need to be up-to-date on the news to see when the weather service issues a red flag warning, he said. Red flag warnings are issued when relative humidity is expected to drop below 35 percent for four or more hours, making conditions favorable for fires.

The Myakka City Fire District hasn’t experienced any major fires recently. The grass on the ground is dry but so far a lot of the heavier vegetation is still holding moisture, said fire chief Danny Cacchiotti.

“We haven’t had anything significant,” he said. “We’re just kind of waiting and seeing what’s going to happen.”

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