tampabay.com

Mild drought brings risk of wildfires

By DON RUTHS
Published March 16, 2007


The weak El Nino pattern in the Pacific Ocean has ended and it did not produce the expected winter rainfall amounts. The majority of Florida is now classified as being in a "moderate drought condition," with areas south of Interstate 4 becoming increasingly dry and expected to worsen as the season goes on.

The March-to-May outlook predicts drier than normal conditions with increasing fire danger potentials. Readers within our Withlacoochee Forestry Center's five-county region (Hernando, Citrus, Sumter, Lake and Pasco) can expect wildfire risks to fluctuate between moderate and high conditions with periodic postings of red flag warnings from the National Weather Service.

It is important to note that wildfire risk conditions are normally issued for periods of several days to a week. A red flag warning can be issued during any risk condition, and is a temporary warning four to eight hours in length where a dangerous combination of temperature, relative humidity and wind may exist, increasing the risk for a wildfire.

We expect periods of restricted open or prescribed burn authorizations. The public's cooperation in adhering to these restrictions, once imposed, is solicited.

Even though the state Division of Forestry directives may allow for the cautious issuing of open-burn permits during these fluctuating wildfire risk conditions, some county and city statutes may be more restrictive and you are advised to check with them about your jurisdiction if planning an outdoor burn.

The Division of Forestry will provide periodic updates on the wildfire season forecast. For more information regarding wildfire risks, call wildfire mitigation specialist Don Ruths in Brooksville, at (352) 754-6777, ext. 119.