USA LAND O’LAKES Two more wildfires ignited in Pasco County on Wednesday, bringing the total number of brush fires authorities have had to deal with this week to four.
Officials learned of the third fire, named the “south bike trail” fire, around 12:30 p.m. after it had already covered 10 acres. In just two hours, it grew to 25 acres. That blaze, in Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park, triggered closure and evacuation of the park, including bike trails, campers and day users, but did not threaten homes.
The Florida Forest Service deployed two bulldozers there to establish fire lines and called in more equipment.
Firefighters were deployed to the fourth fire in Hudson, north of New York Avenue, named the “south wind” fire, around 3:15 p.m. The fire burned over 18 acres and damaged a shed, a boat and 18-wheel trailer. New York Avenue from Old Dixie Highway to U.S. 19 was closed as a result.
Officials said that fire was contained by 6:45 p.m. after they dropped more than 9,000 gallons of water onto it from a helicopter.
The two other wildfires in Pasco County that crews continued to fight were the Silver palm fire and the campground fire, which have both been burning since Monday. The fires are near each other, south of State Road 52 and west of the Suncoast Parkway.
Officials confirmed Wednesday afternoon that both fires were caused by lightning strikes. But they did not say what caused the third and fourth fires.
The campground fire covers 75 acres, but was fully contained by Tuesday night.
The silver palm fire, though, continued to wreak havoc and grew to 35 acres on Wednesday. In one spot, it came within 60 feet of homes and continued to fill neighborhoods with smoke. It also caused officials to close access to a nearby subdivision.
“It’s doing what mother nature intended,’ said Keith Mousel, center manager for Withlacoochee Forest Center, part of the Florida Forest Service. “But it’s making for some uneasy nights for the residents. Hopefully today, we’ll have it better in check.”
That fire has challenged firefighters since Monday. It’s position flanked by the Suncoast Lakes subdivision on one side and the Suncoast Parkway on the other and the swampy terrain have made it difficult for crews to maneuver heavy equipment.
On Wednesday, officials announced they would begin back burning that fire, a technique where firefighters ignite foliage around the wildfire to starve it of fuel. Once the back burning is over, the fire acreage will grow to 55.
Officials closed access to Suncoast Lakes from S.R. 52 to limit the number of cars on the road as crews worked. Residents who leave while the subdivision is closed will not be allowed back in, county officials said.
There are more than 100 wildfires in Florida, half of which is experiencing drought conditions. The Pasco County Commission on Wednesday also banned burning indefinitely.
The new fires burned a day after Gov. Rick Scott declared a statewide state of emergency, which earmarks money for fighting fires and put the National Guard on alert.
Pasco’s burn ban permits outdoor grilling, so long as the grill contains all the fire, flames and heat. No other kinds of burning will be allowed without a permit.
“Be aware that simple actions such as tossing a cigarette into the grass or idling a vehicle over grass can ignite a brush fire on the side of the road,” said Pasco County Fire Rescue Chief Scott Cassin said in a news release. “The county is so dry that these brush fires can spread quickly, threatening homes and businesses.”
Those who are caught burning anything during the ban face fines up to $500. Residents are prohibited from starting fires in unincorporated areas without first getting a permit. That goes for open burning, campfires, bonfires, burning yard waste, garbage and fireworks.
The Pasco burn ban follows a similar ban in Hernando County, which county commissioners there passed unanimously on Tuesday.