The rainy season can’t come soon enough as more wildfires have plagued Manatee County than they have in the past four years, according to the Myakka River District of the Florida Forest Service.
“We had weird weather this year,” said wildfire mitigation specialist Patrick Mahoney. “We’ve had more red flag days this year than I remember us having.”
From Jan. 1 to May 17, Manatee County has had 22 fires. During the same period in 2016, there were seven.
In the entire district — which includes Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, DeSoto and Hardee counties — more than 3,400 acres have burned. That’s not counting six ongoing fires, including the Raintree fire in North Port that scorched around 3,500 acres in Griffin Reserve.
The last time the county saw this many fires was in 2012. The drought index on May 17, 2012, was slightly higher than it was Wednesday, but only a third of the acreage had burned. High winds and unexpected gusts seem to be an ignition to already warm, dry conditions, Mahoney said.
The district listed 23 different potential causes of a fire, which range from children to lightning to smoking. In Manatee County and the district as a whole, the causes of the fires so far this year are mostly centered around unauthorized pile burns and agricultural equipment sparking a flame. Even leaving a small pile burn unattended for just a second can quickly get out of hand. Yet, the county has been on a burn ban for the past three weeks.
With the Memorial Day holiday weekend coming up, Mahoney advises residents to be extra cautious.
“Anything that can produce heat, be cautious with it,” Mahoney said. “Anything.”
While lawnmowers and cigarettes have been known to start blazes in this dry weather, Mahoney said coals from a cookout can easily become a culprit.
Treat them just like a campfire, he said: Water, stir, water, stir.