84ºF

Hot forecast brings riskier weather for firefighters

Record heat for a fire growing hotter

Archives show the Okefenokee's long history with wildfires. A close call when this downed helecopter narrowly missed becoming charred in a 1981 swamp fire.
Archives show the Okefenokee's long history with wildfires. A close call when this downed helecopter narrowly missed becoming charred in a 1981 swamp fire. (Okefenokee NWF annual report photo)

Jacksonville, FLa – The West Mims wildfire is close to the hottest blaze in 35 years and those on the frontline attempting to control the inferno are risking their lives and enduring blistering heat.

This weekend flames overtook a tractor that got stuck and fortunately the operator was not harmed but risks like these will only increase as the fire grows in size.

Yet fire is not always the only danger faced by firefighters. Heat can often bring on heart attacks and strokes with 44 percent of all fatal accidents due to cardiac arrest. 

Through the end of the week temperatures will climb into the mid 90s with record heat. Higher temperatures push humidity lower which sucks away moisture from vegetation.

Drought dropped the swamp levels to critically low levels and now oily palmetto plants add fuel to the fire.

In fact the Energy Release Component is over 98% and close to the highest on record in the last 35 years. The ERC index gives a sense of how hot a fire could burn. It is directly related to the 24-hour, potential worst case available energy to fuel a fire at the front head.

Our area is at the peak of fire season which prevails during January through May when fuel moistures are lowest. 

It can get worse and has in the past. During the last massive wildfire in 2011 almost 75 percent of the refuge was on fire. Currently the fire is 130,000 acres compared to over 310,000 acres consumed by fire between April through July of 2011.

On May 5 the fire merged with another wildfire burning more than 600,000 acres.

Not quite a week later, the fire had burned 144,000 acres and some of those managing the firefighting efforts said it may burn until the tropical rains of late summer and fall arrive.

 


About the Author: