Since Jan. 1, nearly 1,500 wildfires have broken out in Florida, charring approximately 79,000 acres of land.
Eight of Florida’s wildfires have occurred in the Ocala National Forest this year. The most recent fire in Ocala National Forest was in the Putnam County area of the forest. These fires have been both man-made and due to lighting strikes, according to officials.
Todd Schroeder, a wildfire mitigation specialist and team member of the National Wildfire Prevention Team, said the dry weather is to blame.
“We’re real concerned about the dryness in Florida right now in general,” Schroeder said. “Particularly here in Ocala there’s a drought occurring.”
To combat and contain the fires, the United States Forest Service has implemented stage one fire restrictions, which are based on multiple factors associated with low moisture and high-fire danger. Although the current restrictions won’t impact vehicle travel, people are being advised to be careful where they park, so that high grass doesn’t brush up against hot engines.
Antoinette Davis, a natural resource specialist with the U.S. Forest Service, said every fire in the Ocala National Forest this year –with the exception of one– has been caused by humans.
“A lot of the fires are still under investigation, but they all are man-caused,” Davis said. “We’ve had one lightning strike fire thus far this season.”
To limit the possibility of large scale forest fires, campfires are only allowed in developed recreational areas. Campers should check to make sure fires are totally out before exiting the area.
Although regulations are set in place, and fines can be issued, the park relies on people to report a fire in order to put it out quickly.
“We have a closer eye,” Davis said. “we have every staff (in) developed rec areas where we can help educate the population on how to set a proper fire within a device.”