Local News

Dry Memorial Day weekend weather keeps forestry officials busy

— Forestry officials fought three wildfires in Highlands County over the Memorial Day weekend, exacerbated by the recent dry spell which increased wildlife danger, they say.

Wildfires were reported on two one-acre tracts each in the Sebring Hills area and on Payne and Marguerite roads, and lightning is believed to be the cause behind a three-acre fire off Bluff Hammock Road.

The Sebring Hills fire reportedly was caused by a camp fire and the Payne Road blaze is under investigation, authorities said.

“This past weekend was a good reminder that all wildfires can cause damage no matter what size they are,” said Melissa Yunas, wildfire mitigation specialist with the Florida Forest Service, Okeechobee District.

On a half-acre wildfire in Okeechobee County, a homeowner had damage to his shed because pine needles were on his roof. The pine needles caught on but the fire department quickly extinguished the flames, she added.

“Longer summer days, higher temperatures and a decrease in moisture levels (relative humidity) lead to an increase in ignition potential in finer fuels (grass and dead leaf litter,” Yunas explained.

One good indicator of that, she said, is the sound of dried, brittle leaves cracking when you walk on them.

“Another indicator is your yard needs watering to keep the vegetation lush and green,” she added.

With rainfall in the near forecast, firefighters are preparing for an increase in lightning-caused wildfires, she said.

“In wet season or dry season, any period of little or no rainfall that allows the finer fuels to dry out again could prompt an increase in fire activity,” Yunas warned.

She asked homeowners to remove from their roof and gutters anything that could burn, such as pine needles, leaves, small twigs, and palm fronds.

“Be sure there is nothing flammable against the sides of your home. Be sure to use plants that are not highly flammable around your home. Keep the area within 30 feet of your home picked up, mowed, and watered,” she added.