The United States Drought Monitor has categorized 40 percent of Florida’s acreage as under severe drought and 8 percent as under extreme drought.
That’s the most in about five years. Possible results? Major crop losses, water shortages, and now, the perfect conditions for wildfires.
Burn bans are now in place in most of the state of Florida. Alachua and surrounding counties are under watch as the dry conditions continue. Alachua County spokesman Mark Sexton said that while cooking in grills and smokers is allowed, everyone should continue to be cautious.
“Because of the incredible volatile wildfire situation in Florida and Georgia,” Sexton said, “this is not the time to be burning outside.”
The county has also stopped issuing permits for fireworks and other normally-legal kinds of burning. Alachua County Fire Marshal John Adler said although the ban doesn’t cover everything, some activities should still be avoided.
“Avoid burning any yard waste and anything else they would normally burn that is legal,” he said, adding there’s a fine of up to $500 or 60 days in jail for violating the burn ban.
When might the dry conditions end? University of Florida meteorologist Jeff Huffman said although rain is in the forecast this weekend, the dry pattern is here for at least two more weeks.
“It may take months before the drought is erased across all of Florida,” he said. “It’s not unusual for the last few months to be dry, but since Hurricane Matthew, the only significant widespread rain event we’ve had in our part of Florida was on April 4, when Gainesville received 2.67 inches and parts of the Suwannee River Valley received more than 8 inches.”
He said the recent severe fire conditions in Florida are due to low relative humidity and persistent winds.
According to Florida Forest Service data, the district consisting of Alachua, Gilchrist, Levy, Marion, and Putnam counties ranks in the top three districts statewide for number of active fires and fifth in total burning acres.
If you have any questions about the burn ban call Alachua County Fire Rescue at 352-384-3101. If you see burning, call 911.