May proves to be a long dry spell for area


Published: Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
The entire month of May saw just over half an inch of rain in the Gainesville area.
Usually, May averages 3.06 inches. And that's cause for concern for people who fight wildfires.
Fire officials say every day that passes without significant rainfall means an increased potential for wildfires - particularly with more lightning strikes during the summer.
"When you have a lack of rainfall, it increases the drought index," said Ludie Ehlers, spokeswoman for the Florida Division of Forestry. "Even when we get a little bit of rain, the gusty winds we've been having dries us right out. Our concern right now is lightning strikes."
Over Memorial Day weekend, 15 brush fires charred about 112 acres in Alachua, Putnam, Marion, Levy and Gilchrist counties, Ehlers said. Most were caused by lightning.
A brush fire sparked by lightning in the Ocala National Forest on Tuesday continued burning Wednesday evening. Firefighters managed to get the blaze under control after it burned 36 acres and threatened about 15 homes, causing some evacuations, Ehlers said.
Such fires are usually hard to detect, Ehlers said, because the lightning strikes that cause them usually occur in remote areas.
"A lot of these places are inaccessible and we can't get to them with our brush trucks," Ehlers said. "The fires go undetected for long periods of time until they build up to produce visible smoke."
Fire and weather officials say several inches of rain are needed to quench dry conditions.
Starting today, Gainesville may start to see some relief with a 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms expected and a 40 to 50 percent chance of showers and storms through Saturday night, according to the National Weather Service.
Rainfall estimates, however, are predicted to be a half inch of rain for the area this weekend, which is not enough to escape the threat of brush fire hazards, said Matt Zibura, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Jacksonville.
"It may help a little," Zibura said. "The good thing is that the relative humidity levels during the weekend days will be at 50 percent, which is higher than they've been lately. So there is hope."
Deborah Ball can be reached at (352) 338-3109 or balld@gvillesun.com

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