2013 wildfire season expected to be normal
TBO.comSEBRING - This year, the Florida Forest Service has not yet responded to any wildfires in Highlands County, but forestry officials want residents to be cautious as cold fronts and the dry season bring with them wildfire danger.
Published: January 11, 2013
Published: January 11, 2013
"With every passing cold front the grass is losing moisture and turning from green to brown. The brown grass is easily ignitable by vehicles," said Melissa Yunas, wildfire mitigation specialist for the forestry service.
Last year, the Florida Forest Service responded to 100 wildfires that burned approximately 1,322.6 acres in Highlands County.
The county's five-year average for wildfires is approximately 108 a year, therefore 2012 was an average year and this year is expected to be the same, Yunas said.
The dry season, which started in November, brought higher-than-normal rain in November and December, but from now until March, below-average rainfall is expected.
"Historically, the number one cause of wildfires in Highlands County is debris burning," Yunas said.
Laws govern burning, and Yunas asked residents to check the rules before starting a burn.
Burning authorization is required for agricultural, pile and acreage burning. While prior permits are not required for yard waste burning, they have to meet setback requirements and cannot be set on fire if local laws prohibit burning. If a pile is bigger than 8 feet in diameter, it needs a prior authorization.
Yard waste has to be ignited after 9 a.m. and be extinguished an hour before sundown.
Here are the setback requirements: 50 feet away from paved public roads, 25 feet away from forests and homes and 150 feet away from other occupied buildings.
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services also has following recommendations to prevent fires from lawn and farm equipment:
Clearing grass and vegetation should be started before 10 a.m. After 10 a.m., temperatures rise, humidity drops and winds increase. Mowers are designed to cut green lawns and grasses. Never use mowers in dry vegetation. Prior to mowing or disking, walk the area and remove rocks and debris before using mowers or clearing tools and equipment. A rock or large debris hidden in tall grass could ignite a fire if struck by a metal blade. If the area is too rocky, do not use metal-bladed equipment to clear dry vegetation. Spark arrestors are required on all portable, gasoline-powered equipment, including tractors, harvesters, chainsaws, weed-eaters, mowers, motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles. Keep exhaust systems, spark arresters and mowers in proper working order and free from carbon build-up. Keep motorized equipment engines free of oil and dust. Hot exhaust pipes and mufflers can easily start fires that you may not see until it's too late. When clearing vacant parcels, create a firebreak by clearing the perimeter of the lot first and work toward the middle.