Backyard burning still a risk, despite recent rain


Published: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 12:04 a.m.

Area fire officials say that residents should remain vigilant when it comes to backyard burning, despite recent rainfall that has lowered the drought index.

That’s because the rain came all at once, and recent gusty winds and low humidity has again dried out the surface, leading to several small wildfires in recent days.

“We are calling this a short reprieve,” said Ludie Bond, Florida Division of Forestry spokeswoman. “It is giving people a false sense of security [when it comes to backyard burning this time of year].”

In the first 10 days of 2011, Alachua County has received 1.04 inches of rain, nearly one-third of the typical January average. However, the rain came all at once. Officials say there needs to be regular rainfall. Experts say an inch per week for a month is much better than 4 inches at one time.

“Also, we must remember that we have a lot of catching up to do,” said Bond, adding that some areas are still more than 10 inches below normal since Oct. 1.

Since Oct. 1, Alachua County has received 2.29 inches of rain: none in October; 0.56 inches in November; 0.69 in December; and 1.04 inches so far in January.

That’s more than 5 inches below normal for those months. And the wildfire season, which runs from December through June, has just begun.

Because of last week’s deluge, Alachua County’s drought index has dropped to 519 on the Keetch-Byram Drought Index — known as the KBDI — scale. Alachua’s KBDI was in the 600s last month.

The index measures drought severity up to 800 points. Every 100 points on the scale equals 1 inch a person must dig into the ground to find moisture.

During most years, the Keetch-Byram scale rarely reaches the levels that experts have been seeing at this time of year. Last month’s 600 reading put Alachua County in the severe range, 600 to 800 points: the highest on the KBDI scale.

Right now, Alachua County west of Interstate 75 has a drought index between 300 and 500. Meanwhile, Alachua County east of I-75 has a drought index above 500 points because the area received less rain.

Experts are still calling the wildfire outlook grim.

Bond said gusty winds dried out the grass, pine straw and leaves over the weekend. Those fuels are like a wick to larger fuels.

“And we are expecting more gusty wind this coming weekend,” said Bond, adding that residents need not conduct backyard burns until regular rainfall begins falling. Bond said small wildfires, are still popping up throughout the large district.

Contact Joe Callahan at joe.callahan@starbanner.com.

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