Gov. Scott declares state of emergency for wildfires

Graphic via Florida Department of Agriculture

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Tuesday in response to the 107 wildfires burning around the state.

Scott said the proclamation will make it easier for state, regional and local agencies to “quickly work together to protect our families, visitors and communities.”

Wildfires are burning on a total of more than 23,800 acres of land and have destroyed 19 homes. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said this is the most active wildfire season since 2011.

Scott’s executive order is expected to speed government assistance in hard-hit areas. Since February, wildfires have swept across 68,000 acres statewide. That amount is higher than the average acreage burned over the past five years.

The largest blaze right now is the one known as the Cowbell Fire in South Florida’s Big Cypress National Preserve, which has spread to more than 15,000 acres just north of Alligator Alley.

WINK News live-streamed video of smoke from that fire as affected visibility on the alley:

A wildfire in the Picayune Strand State Forest last month scorched more than 7,000 acres, destroyed four homes and sent thick, dark smoke clouds over much of Naples. A 70-acre brush fire Monday in North Fort Myers was set by children and threatened homes.

In Pasco County, north of Tampa, voluntary evacuations were issued Monday and an emergency shelter was opened. The evacuation order was rescinded and the shelter closed later Monday evening but officials there are warning residents to be ready in case evacuations are again recommended.

One fire near Oviedo in central Florida over the weekend resulted in evacuations of nearly 40 homes and harrowing moments for firefighters. And a Hernando County brush fire apparently sparked by lightning on Saturday had widened to 1,100 acres (445 hectares) by Monday.

April and May are traditionally Florida’s driest months, contributing to the fire risk.

Much of Southwest Florida continues to be in a severe drought. The Agriculture Department lists the risk of fire as “very high” in Lee County, “high” in Charlotte, Glades and Collier counties and “moderate” in Hendry County.

“As we get a little deeper into the year and the rains do come, the first few weeks of rain bring in as much lightning as water and that’s when the lightning-caused fires really kick up,” he said.

Still, Putnam said about 90 percent of the fires this year have been sparked by humans.

State health officials warn that wildfire smoke affects people with chronic lung and heart problems and asthma. Doctors have advised people with these conditions should limit their outdoor activities if wildfires are burning nearby.

Author: Associated Press
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