Friday, April 13, 2012

Florida left high and dry and more prone to wildfires

OPB News via Climate Central: In 2011, it was Texas that went up in flames, with a historic drought and searing heat wave leading to the worst wildfire season on record. A year later, another southern state affected by intense drought is bracing for a destructive wildfire season: Florida.

While Texas has received drought-busting rains during recent months, long-term drought in the Southeast has created ideal conditions for large wildfires there. Water levels in swampy areas of southern Georgia and northern Florida are at historically low levels, and already, Florida firefighters are struggling to contain a large fire — 30,000-acre blaze in the Pinehook Swamp, near the Georgia state line.

This fire, known as the County Line Fire, has spread dense smoke across northern Florida, reducing visibility to as low as one-half mile at times. Officials fear it won’t be the last large wildfire to affect Florida this season. So far this year, nearly 1,400 wildfires, most of them quite small, have burned about 90,000 acres in the Sunshine State, and the peak of wildfire season is still to come.

“It does put us on edge . . . we’re already so busy so early in the fire season and we know the worst is yet to come,” said Annaleasa Winter, a wildfire mitigation specialist with the Florida Forest Service.

The County Line Fire, started by a lightning strike on April 5, worries state fire officials, since it is burning vegetation below the surface as well as above, making it far more difficult to extinguish than typical forest fires. “This fire has the potential to get much bigger,” Winter said....

The 2007 Bugaboo fire in Florida, shot by FEMA

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