FIRE SEASON DRAWS NEAR
Officials said even though the drought index for Putnam County is not as high as Central and South Florida counties, the potential for an increased wildfire season is looming.
As of Tuesday, firefighters from Putnam County and state Forestry Service continued to work on two wildfires in the county.
Forestry service spokeswoman Ludie Bond said none of the fires in the area were caused by a natural event.
“All fires so far are human caused, not lightning,” Bond said.
Bond and Putnam County Fire and Emergency Medical Services Chief Quin Romay said while conditions are better than counties to the south, the season for wildfires is approaching.
“We are still issuing burn authorizations,” Bond said. “We are not as dry as Orlando or down south, but we are getting there. The window is quickly closing.”
“With the lack of rainfall over the winter months, we have potential to see more wildfires than in the past few years,” Romay said.
According to a release from the state Department of Agriculture, which oversees the forest service, March, April and May usually coincide with an increase in wildfire activity because these months are typically the driest.
“Due to below average rainfall for the last two years, extensive fallen timber from last year’s hurricanes and several years of mild wildfire conditions, the 2017 wildfire season is predicted to be more active than in recent years,” the release said.
With brush left over from Hurricane Matthew in October, Romay said, residents should make sure they have defensible space around their homes.
“There should be 30 to 60 feet of cleared area around homes to keep embers and ashes from burning to eaves,” Romay said.
Romay said while burn authorizations are still allowed, residents should use caution when determining whether to burn yard debris.
“Be aware of the weather and don’t burn on days with low humidity or high winds,” Romay said. “We want to make sure everyone is being safe.”
Bond said as the area moves into the fire season, safety is a concern for firefighters and those affected by fires.
“Hobbyists and others who have drones are a concern,” Bond said. “When drones are flown in the area of wildfires, it ground our air resources. When drones fly, we can’t.”
Another concern for the forest service, Bond said, was motorists not clearing roadways for fire crews traveling to wildfires.
“We want to get the message out, motorists tend to move for law enforcement and fire trucks, but the (bull) dozers need to get to the fire too,” Bond said.
Bond said the forest service recently launched a new mobile app called FLBurnTools to inform the public about drought, wildfire danger and wildfire activity.
“Residents can see fire locations in real time,” Bond said. “Every fire we are running will show on the map.”