No Relief in Sight: Florida blazes consume 126,000 acres
Monday, April 17, 2017, 1:15 PM - More than 100 wildfires continue to burn in Florida, bringing the total land consumed this year to at least 126,000 -- exceeding the five-year average of how much is burned in a typical year.
"Florida wildfires have already burned 250 per cent more acreage during the first three months of 2017 than during the same time period last year," Florida Division of Emergency Management said in a weather update. "There are currently more than 100 active wildfires across more than 20,000 acres in Florida."
Wildfires led Florida Highway Patrol to close stretches of major highways over the recent Easter weekend, causing major backlogs, as smoke drove visibility down to zero. Ahead of the Easter weekend, Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a State of Emergency, citing the fast-growing wildfires burning across the state and the high potential for increased wildfires to continue this season.
One of the largest fires, the so-called "Cowbell Fire" in Big Cypress National Preserve in the Everglades, had expanded to nearly 18,000 acres as of Sunday morning, with 50% of the perimeter reported contained.
This past winter was the second warmest and one of the driest on record for Florida, with below average for rainfall in both January and February, according the Florida Department of Agriculture. The only exception was the Panhandle, which saw a surplus of rainfall during a weekend storm January 21 and 22.
Fire season in the Sunshine State generally peaks in April - traditionally the state's driest month.
The unusually dry winter primed conditions for an active fire season. "When that fuel moisture goes down and the humidity is down and then wind's blowing, that's usually a melting pot for extreme fire conditions," Bryan Williams, a meteorologist with the Florida Forest Service told Florida Today.
Officials warn that things will get worse before they get better, as even drier and warmer conditions are expected through the rest of the spring and into early summer, in part thanks to the weak La Niña episode that concluded in December. La Niña generally results in drier-than-average conditions for the southeast, and while the Pacific-based oscillation is now shifting toward the opposite end of the spectrum - El Niño - it will be several months before the change in conditions is felt over Florida.
Watch below: Late-week precipitation outlook
While the season is one of the most active in several years, so far firefighters are taking it in stride.
"I would classify this as a normal fire season so far," Sean Gallagher, a spokesman for the Florida Fire Service told Florida Today. "It's been four or five years since we've had a normal fire season, so people have kind of forgotten. We're prepared for any eventuality."
Below is a look at some of the wildfires burning across the state this month:
Below: Brush Fire Burns Near Amusement Parks in Orlando, Florida
Below: Firefighters are battling a brushfire raging out of control near the Everglades Holiday Park near Miami. Nathan Frandino reports
Thumbnail image: Twitter/@FFS_ORLANDO