Wildfire risk ‘very high’ as Manatee is now in severe drought

In just a week, the “severe drought” designation has doubled in size.
In just a week, the “severe drought” designation has doubled in size.

Bone-dry conditions forecast an increased risk of fire danger for Manatee County.

According to the National Drought Mitigation Center’s U.S. Drought Monitor map from Tuesday, Manatee and Sarasota counties are now listed as being in a “severe drought.” The severe drought spans from Hernando to Collier counties.

Also, the Florida Forest Service’s fire danger index forecast on Thursday listed six counties, including Manatee, as having “very high” fire danger.

The ingredients needed to brew a wildfire include dry weather, high winds, low humidity and high dispersion. And, of course, a spark to start it all.

So far this year, Manatee has received less than half its typical rainfall. Historical data collected by the Southwest Florida Water Management District shows that for the first three months of 2017, Manatee got 4.2 inches of rain. The same time period in 2016 brought 9.35 inches, and the first quarter of 2015 had 7.18 inches.

The Florida Forest Service Myakka River District is currently restricting permitted pile burns to only citrus spot burns in Manatee, Sarasota, DeSoto, Charlotte and Hardee counties. Pile burns greater than 8 feet by 8 feet require permission by the Florida Forest Service.

On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency due to the recent surge in fires. As of Sunday, there have been 1,446 wildfires in Florida that burned more than 68,000 acres, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Scott directed the Florida National Guard to provide resources to aide firefighters across the state Wednesday.

Hannah Morse: 941-745-7055, @mannahhorse