Increased Risk Of Wildfires Has Florida Forest Service Urging Caution
The dry weather coupled with a heat wave is leading to an increased risk of wildfires.
So far this year there have been 38 wildfires in Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau and St. Johns counties; with an estimated 804 acres burned.
Duval and Nassau counties were listed with a “High” fire danger forecast, while Baker, Clay and St. Johns counties were listed with a “moderate” fire danger forecast.
The Florida Forest service releases a daily report of fire danger for every county in Florida.
The dry conditions and a lack of humidity are making it easier for fires to spark up, according to fire safety officials. A lack of measurable rainfall in close to three weeks has created more dangerous conditions for fire outbreaks.
“All of those factors are in the moderate to high range right now,” said Annaleasa Winter, a wildfire mitigation specialist with the Florida Forest Service (FFS). “It really doesn’t take much for a fire to start and to spread.”
Forecasts for Tuesday’s Fire Danger Index predict humidity at less than 35 percent for Duval, Baker and Nassau Counties.
The impact of forest fires are more than the burning of trees and brush. The ensuing smoke can have a lasting impact on air quality. Light winds and high temperatures allow the air to hang in place low to the ground.
“Smoke from forest fire does have those tiny little particulate matter that’s under 10 microns, which can get in through the lung tissue,” Winter said. “It is carcinogenic. Anytime you’re breathing smoke particles like that it can affect your body.”
The FFS suggests not participating in strenuous activity outdoors when air quality is poor due to smoke. Also, don’t open windows and keep the air conditioning circulating through the house.
The warm summer months are the peak season for forest fires in Northeast Florida, according to Winter, which in turn coincides with hurricane season beginning on June 1.
“You never say a hurricane can help solve the problem,” Winter said. “Some tropical activity would be great without any lightning. But we certainly don’t need a hurricane.”
Florida Public Radio Meteorologist Cyndee O'Quinn said the current hot and dry weather pattern isn’t expected to break until this weekend.
“The stubborn ridge of high pressure brought record temperatures over the weekend including tying the all-time record in May of 100 at the Jacksonville International airport Monday. As the ridge begins to flatten by the end of the week, only then will the hot and dry pattern begin to ease,” O’Quinn said.
O’Quinn said the odds of summer afternoon showers and thunderstorms will increase over the weekend with temperatures also running 5 to 7 degrees cooler.
The FFS is urging everyone to use caution when working outside with anything flammable.
“Even the tiniest little spark can cause a wildfire that can get away from you very quickly,” Winter said.
The FFS said if people should avoid activities like barbecuing or mowing the lawn during the hottest part of the day, which is around 2 to 6 p.m.
Also, always keep a steady water source nearby.
Last week, a wildfire sparked near Yellow Bluff resulted in a blaze that spanned more than 600 acres at one point. Emergency crews are still working on containing the wildfire.
As of Tuesday morning, firefighters had contained 70 percent of the Yellow Bluff fire and there were 44 active wildfires throughout Florida burning more than 1,200 acres.