Severe wildfire season may be ahead

Severe wildfire season may be ahead

11 October 2010

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USA —  Dry conditions in some parts of the state, coupled with a long-range forecast that predicts a drying cycle, could mean a potentially severe wildfire season, warned Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson.

Right now, wildfire danger conditions are moderate for Highlands County, said Melissa Yunas, wildfire mitigation specialist for the Florida Division of Forestry.

“But that can change,” she said. “Everything is starting to dry out rather quickly. Once we have high winds, people need to be careful.”

A spark from a welder or even the heat from a car in high grass could start a fire, she said.

Also, they’re seeing some very unique fire activity this year, she said.

Due to the frost earlier in the year, fires are running across the tops of flag-ponds even when there is water underneath.

“There are dried sticks, and reeds and vegetation is sticking up,” she said. “When the fire starts, it just races across.”

The culprit, Bronson said, is a lack of major tropical storm activity this season and La Niña conditions, which are expected to continue until at least early next year.

The Keetch Byram Drought Index shows Highlands County at a 300 – 399 out of a scale of 100 to 800, with 800 being the driest. It was at 398 on Friday.

But, Robyn Felix, spokeswoman for the Southwest Florida Water Management District, said although rainfall in Highlands County is only slightly below average, “it’s amazing how quickly we can go from really wet to really dry.”

“La Nina means a drier than normal winter and spring,” Felix said. “Our summer rain season is finished. We’re really heading into our dry season.”

Meteorologists define La Niña conditions as abnormally cold sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, which generally trigger severe wildfire activity in Florida, according Bronson.

In fact, five of Florida’s most active wildfire years have occurred during or immediately after a period when the Pacific Ocean had unusually cold sea temperatures, he stated.

Residents can visit the Florida Division of Forestry website at or call their local Division of Forestry office.

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