Storms haven't quelled wildfire risks


Published: Sunday, July 1, 2007 at 11:09 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, July 1, 2007 at 11:15 a.m.

Thunderstorms have swept through Alachua County in recent days. And counties around the state, including most in North Florida, have lifted burn bans.

But state fire officials are warning that Florida is not past the threat of wildfires because the state has yet to see a pattern of regular, afternoon thunderstorms. Drought conditions still persist around the state due to months of less-than-normal rainfall.

Water managers on Saturday reported that Lake Okeechobee's water level reached a record low of 8.88 feet above sea level, the Associated Press reported. Officials blamed sporadic rain and high evaporation rates for the lake's new record low.

Lightning apparently started a handful of small brush fires in southern Levy County, said Sheriff's Office Lt. Evan Sullivan Saturday. No structures were damaged.

Residents planning a Fourth of July full of grilling and fireworks should be aware of the wildfire danger, fire officials warned.

“Our Division of Forestry is again responding to 20 to 40 new wildfires each day,“ said Charles H. Bronson, commissioner of Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services, in a statement last week.

Drought index readings for most of the state are higher than 400. Nine counties, the majority in South Florida, have lower readings.

The Keetch-Byram Drought Index measures moisture in the soil and ranges from 0 for flood conditions to 800 for desert-like conditions. Earlier this year, many counties had readings above 600.

Sixteen of Florida's 67 counties still have some form of burn ban in effect, the Florida Division of Forestry reported.

Alachua County lifted its mandatory burn ban last week, allowing residents to burn yard debris and set off legal fireworks.

Residents still must adhere to debris-burning guidelines set by the Florida Division of Forestry.

Although the county's burn ban has been lifted, open burn permits to burn yard trash still must be obtained in the Gainesville city limits, according to Gainesville Fire Rescue.

For more information about which counties and cities have burn bans, go to www.fl-dof.com.

Lise Fisher can be reached at (352) 374-5092 or fisherl@gvillesun.com.

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