Highlands Lakes volunteer firefighters work along Darter Avenue during a brush fire that burned through 60 acres of scrub land behind the Sebring Hills and Golf Hammock neighborhoods on March 21. With the dry season upon us, fire officials are worried about the potential for wildfires. RYAN PELHAM/STAFF
SEBRING - During the wet season, it rained nearly every day in Highlands County. Sometimes, it rained several times a day. From January though October, more than 51 inches of rain fell in the region. So far this month: .14 inches, according to Southwest Florida Water Management District. "Just a few sprinkles," said West Sebring Fire Chief Scott Mann. "My concern is that after a wetter-than-normal summer, it makes all that vegetation grow," Firefighters are already hearing the call to action. Two fires have started in south Highlands County.
"About a week ago," said Lorida Fire Chief Swen Swenson, "a brush fire, started from an RV. The exhaust system ignited the dry grass and burned about 10 acres." Both chiefs warned rural homeowners to mow 30-foot-wide defensive safety lines around their homes. "With these dry, warm days, it dries out the ground pretty quick," Swenson said. "When the freeze comes, it kills the vegetation, and there will be that much more to ignite," Mann said. "Establish a fire-wise zone. You also want to make sure that you clean out the valleys of the roof. Remove the pine cones and needles and leaves. If a firebrand, an ember from a nearby fire, flies over and land on the roof, it could ignite." subhead Overall, lake and river water levels across South Florida are at or starting to fall below their targets for this time of year, with regulation schedules designed to reflect that the hurricane season does not officially end until Nov. 30. Because little rain has fallen, the aquifer level has dropped a foot in the past two weeks, said SWFWMD spokeswoman Susanna Martinez Tarokh. Acquifers are underground layers of rock and sand that hold water. In most areas, aquifers supply 80 percent of drinking, household and business water. "The Southwest Florida Water Management District urges year-round water conservation. Water levels may rise and fall, but our water resources remain limited." When it was wet, it was record-setting wet, said both water management districts. But now that it's dry, it's really dry. All 16 counties in South Florida Water Management District received below-average rainfall, making 2013 the ninth-driest October since 1932 and the fifth-driest since 1983, said spokesman Gabe Margasak. "We are still benefiting from the increased water levels following from an above-average wet season," said Susan Sylvester, SFWMD Chief of the Water Control Operations Bureau. "But water managers remain cautious because this is the time of year when water levels can fall rapidly from prolonged below-average rainfall." South Florida's dry season forecast: About 18 inches of rain is average for November through May. March, April and May are the driest months because evaporation is highest. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center has forecast: Below-normal precipitation Slightly above-normal temperatures Precipitation in an average dry season: 12 to 15 inches in the interior,three to six inches more on the west coast. firstname.lastname@example.org 863-386-5828