Drought conditions gone, but fire danger remains


Published: Friday, January 28, 2011 at 9:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 28, 2011 at 9:47 p.m.

The rainstorms that swept across North Florida earlier this week may have given residents a false sense of security about outdoor burning, according to the Florida Division of Forestry.

Much of the area received an inch or more of rain, precipitation that significantly lowered the Keetch Byram Drought Index that measures soil moisture and other conditions related to drought. The index ranges from a value of 0, which indicates complete saturation, to 800, which represents no moisture at all. By late Thursday, the index showed Alachua, Marion and the other counties of North Florida all had an average index reading below 400, with the exception of Putnam County, where the average was below 500. Previous index readings showed the region recording scores of 600 or more.

"We are concerned that people will have a false sense of security because we had rain earlier this week," said forestry spokeswoman Ludie Bond. "We are recommending that people still be very vigilant with outdoor fires. Be aware of your surroundings and the winds and the vegetation in that area."

Bond said the wind is a key factor in provoking wildfires at this time of year, regardless of the drought index.

"The grasses are still dead and will remain dead until we get more moisture and warmer weather to start greening things up, so the winds can pick up fire and move it very quickly," Bond said.

For example, officials said a Marion County man who intended to burn three acres earlier this week wound up burning 10 acres because the wind picked up the sparks and flames traveled quickly.

Officials said anyone who has questions about whether it is safe and legal to burn in their area should call the local fire department or the Division of Forestry.

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