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Florida’s fire season: How bad will it be?

Wildcard is freeze potential this winter

A brushfire early in January, 2020 was one of the few northeast Florida saw last year. Hopefully the low trend will continue this year.
A brushfire early in January, 2020 was one of the few northeast Florida saw last year. Hopefully the low trend will continue this year.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The upcoming fire season may be less active due to the absence of drought but a couple of factors could spark more flames.

Although the peak of fire season is several months away -- spanning May through August -- right now weather conditions favor few wildfires.

The forecast for wet weather continues past 2020′s wetter than an average year and these conditions should help reduce the wildfire risk.

Florida’s state climatologist David Zierden cautions one caveat could be if a severe freeze kills more vegetation, fire risks will increase risks.

Another factor, the wet southern storm track due to La Nina could dry out Florida as it shifts away from the southeast when La Nina begins to wane by spring.

The Climate Prediction Center is forecasting warm and drier than normal weather with a drought likely to develop during the next three months across northern Florida and south Georgia.

Less rain expected through March may increase drought over Georgia and north Florida.
Less rain expected through March may increase drought over Georgia and north Florida.

Fire is a part of Florida’s history burning about 7% of the state’s land each year; more than half resulting in land clearing and silviculture fires, while only 8% is from wildfires.

It may be surprising, Florida’s fires during drought typically decrease in the area or remain steady, according to scientists studying the subject like FSU researcher Christopher Holmes. This is attributed to the state having one of the best prescribed-fires programs in the Southeast designed to minimize wildfire risk.

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While the natural influence of drought typically sparks more wildfires, especially in western parts of the country, proper management of intentionally set burns controls wildfires by burning off vegetative fuels.

Scheduled burning is preferred during the start of the year through May when the air is cool and dry but not at parched levels which makes fires blaze out of control.

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Look for more risk when prescribed fires are scaled back in dry years due to the inherent nature of less control during drought years.

Further complications come from last year’s government shutdown and the ongoing COVID-19 situation resulting in fewer prescribed fires.


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