© 2023 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Floridians are urged to be vigilant against wildfires with much of the state 'dry or near drought'

A dark-haired man in a khaki shirt and green cargo pants speaks into a group of microphones with firefighters and firefighting gear in the background.
Courtesy Florida Forest Service website
Florida Drought Index Map

State Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson and Florida Forest Service Director Rick Dolan spoke during a news conference in Hillsborough County about what has already proven to be a busy fire season.

Peak wildfire season is here. And Florida Forest Service Director Rick Dolan says Central and South Florida are extremely dry and the farther south you go, the drier it is.

Half of the 1,200 Forest Service Division employees are "fire certified." And they've been battling wildfires since the start of the year, Dolan said.

"We've had 1,098 fires for 35,424 acres, these total(s) include, state, private and federal lands," Dolan said. "North Florida has received recent rainfall, and we're very thankful for that. However a couple of weeks of dry conditions could change their fire activity, significantly."

You can check out current wildfire activity here.

A dark-haired man in a khaki shirt and green cargo pants speaks into a group of microphones with firefighters and firefighting gear in the background.
Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services
/
Facebook
Florida Forest Service Director Rick Dolan warns of wildfire risks during a news conference on April 6, 2023.

Dolan said lightning season is approaching and wildfire activity in the state is expected to grow. He said the National Weather Service reports the state is shifting from a La Niña weather patter to a neutral pattern, which will bring El Niño conditions, but we may have to wait till the end of May for the rain it will bring.

Dolan said the forest service has an air tanker base set up for statewide response, and four federal helicopters are in Ocala to provide support.

State Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson said arson and escaped yard burning are the two leading causes of wildfires in Florida. Officials also continue to investigate a 1,000-acre wildfire in Polk County last week that destroyed dozens of outbuildings.

A wildfire in Collier County's Big Cypress National Preserve that charred 3,000 acres as of Wednesday, and closed many trails, and shut down recreational use. It is not far from Interstate 75.

Burn bans are in effect in Brevard, Collier, Hendry, Highlands, Lee, Orange, Osceola, Polk and Seminole counties, and burning yard debris is always prohibited in Duval, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.

Simpson said Florida is "the nation's leader in prescribed burns" to prevent wildfires, but both Hurricane Michael in 2018 and Hurricane Ian last year left behind debris that could fuel wildfires. He said they're still working to clean that up.

Simpson added that he will be approaching state lawmakers to increase the pay of Florida Forest Service employees.

"The wildfire that doesn't start is the one that doesn't have to be fought," Simpson said.

Simpson urged people to get information about what they can do to prevent wildfires here.

WGCU reporter Mike Braun contributed to this story.

I love telling stories about my home state. And I hope they will help you in some way and maybe even lift your spirits.