USA — Wildfires across Florida are bad and getting worse.
Right now more than 350 fires are burning on 115,000 acres and state leaders say the situation is just about as bad as the record wildfire season in 1998.
On Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet got an update on the situation from the leader of the state’s Division of Forestry. Jim Karels says 93 percent of Florida is in a severe drought. Now with the start of the rainy season, that may help but it can also hurt.
The daily thunderstorms produce a lot of lightning and that’s starting even more wildfires. On Wednesday alone, Florida recorded about 50,000 lightning strikes.
Karels, who’s been named the Incident Commander for the wildfire emergency, says it’s going to take a lot of rain to alleviate the fire danger.
“They say the drought is going to take about 9 inches of rain to get us out of the drought. We really are going to need probably 2 inches of rain to get us out of the fire conditions across the whole state so we’re a long ways from it and the lightning is taxing us.”
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam recalled the wildfire season of 1998 when the state had to shut down Interstate 95 from Jacksonville to Titusville, as well as I-10 from Jacksonville to Lake City.
He said those fires had an enormous economic impact.
“We’re basically today in terms of the index numbers, where we were at this point in ’98 and desperately waiting for the beginning of the rainy season. Now the challenge about the beginning of the rainy season is that until you get enough moisture built up in the soil, that rainy season is going to start more fires than it’s going to put out until it gets a good foothold because of lightning strikes.”
Florida is enlisting help from other states, such as Virginia and Kentucky, to help fight wildfires.
Plus, the Florida National Guard, U.S. Forest Service and federal Department of Interior are supplying helicopters and other heavy equipment for the mission.