Local, state conditions conducive for wildfires

Lots of dead vegetation and dry weather.

Current conditions in Manatee and across the state of Florida are offering the perfect fuel for wildfires, and fire officials are on alert.

“We have a moderate to high fire danger right now,” said Mike Keegan, Myakka River District supervisor for Florida’s Division of Forestry. “We’re going longer between significant rain events and because we had several freezes this year, that added lots of dead vegetation to the fuel that was already there.”

Manatee was under high alert from noon to 5 p.m. Friday due to dropping humidity and 15- to 20-mph winds, said Max Dersch, Resource Management Division manager for Manatee County Natural Resources, but no fires were reported.

There is a 40 percent chance of rain Sunday in Manatee, according to the National Weather Service. That’s a hint of good news, but a recent lack of rain across the state has helped ignite a rash of wildfires.

“They’re burning and it’s a concern,” said Joe King, spokesman for the Tampa-based nonprofit Institute for Business and Home Safety.

Florida Today reported Friday on its website that firefighters were making inroads on the “Iron Horse” brush fire in north Brevard County.

“We had a great day,” Annaleasa Winter, wildfire mitigation specialist for the Florida Division of Forestry, told Florida Today. “By the end of the shift (Friday), we hope to have it at 100 percent. But it won’t be out. It’s going to take some significant rainfall to extinguish it completely. It’s still going to be hot.”

Winter added that the 17,000-acre fire was 50 percent contained as of Friday afternoon.

Keegan said he sent one firefighting tractor, a fixed-wing aircraft and four personnel from the district to help battle “Iron Horse.”

In west Miami-Dade County, it took more than 100 firefighters to corral a 400-acre blaze Friday made challenging by high winds. By 6 p.m., the fire was 95 percent contained, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Jose Herrera.

The most prominent wildfire of late in Manatee occurred earlier this week when 19 acres burned off Verna Bethany Road between 61st and 65th avenues east. An all-terrain vehicle was damaged, but no structures was affected, Keegan said.

What can residents do to help prevent wildfires?

Use care and common sense when using any outdoor fires, barbecues or camp fires, Keegan said.

For those who live in area’s more prone to wildfires, he said to make sure brush is cleared out of the areas around the home. Clean out those gutters, too.

The Myakka River District serves Manatee, Desoto, Hardee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties.

To report a wildfire or for burning authorizations, call the district at (941) 751-7627.

-- The Miami Herald contributed to this report.

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