USA MARTIN COUNTY Drying swamps are complicating wildfire fighting efforts deep in a 32-square-mile wilderness area at the Martin-St. Lucie county border.
Swamps are hard to get equipment into and they are becoming more fire prone, fire officials said.
“It is becoming a big concern,” said state Forestry Service spokeswoman Melissa Yunas.
Lighting ignited a fire 15 miles west of Stuart on April 6 that grew to 224 acres in the Allapattah Flats Wildlife Management Area before it was contained. Overnight Tuesday, some remaining embers from that fire burst into flames, scorching an additional 50 adjoining acres including what are normally damp swamps, Yunas said.
The swamps are in expanses of woodlands.
State of emergency declared as more than 100 wildfires burn | Video, photos
It is one of nine Treasure Coast wildfires and 106 statewide. Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency, freeing up equipment and state firefighters to go to the areas needing help battling blazes. Some are already on the Treasure Coast.
They’re helping monitor the Treasure Coast’s 806 fire-scorched acres in areas suffering from lack of rainfall this year. All of the fires are in Martin and St. Lucie counties.
Overnight Tuesday, Forest Service bulldozers cleared new trails around the 50-acre outbreak that firefighters continue to monitor. Normally soggy areas are so dry, decayed vegetation at the surface is burning, Yunas said.
In 2013, state firefighters had to bring in special equipment from Everglades National Park to combat a fast-moving fire that spread into marsh plants after burning around homes in northeastern St. Lucie County.
If more rain doesn’t fall, Yunas fears the fire problem could get much deeper. Fire could penetrate into underlying layers of peat, becoming smoldering underground fires that tunnel through the vegetation and are hard to reach.
That happens occasionally in peat in the marshes along the St. Johns River, which the wildlife management area used to be part of, according to water management district officials.
Such fires occur in Brevard County, where peat, also called muck, occasionally catches fire along Interstate 95. The fires smolder until rain fills up the marshes, said Ed Garland, St. Johns River Water Management District spokesman.
A scattering of rain fell along the Treasure Coast on Tuesday. Only a quarter-inch fell on the wildlife management area, Yunas said.
The National Weather Service forecast for the next seven days is for mainly clear skies and wind that can fan flames. There is a 20 percent chance of rain on Saturday. The forecast doesn’t include lightning, which has caused most of the Treasure Coast wildfires since April 3.
The state’s Fire Danger Map ranks Martin and Brevard counties as “very high” a 4 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the worst. St. Lucie County is “moderate” at 2, and Indian River County is “high” at 3