West Mims Fire headlines fade away; firefight and drought continues

Above: A helicopter carries a bucket of water on a drop at the fire in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Photo via InciWeb, posted May 14, 2017. 

Remember the West Mims Fire?

The massive blaze that generated national media attention for days, threatened a Georgia town and sent ash falling over densely populated cities has all-but-faded away for most of the country. Aided by Mother Nature, crews continue to gain the upper hand on the 152,000-acre lightning-sparked wildfire, which was 60 percent contained as of this weekend.

Seven helicopters, two air tankers, 135 wildland fire engines, 62 bulldozers, five hand crews, and 1,025 personnel were assigned to the blaze Sunday.

“The fire remained relatively inactive,” officials said in an update.

While “inactive” is the name of the game for the West Mims Fire — and for spring fire situations across much of the U.S. inundated with spring storms and abundant moisture — it’s anything but quiet in the Sunshine State.

Twenty-eight fires in excess of 100 acres burned over the weekend within Florida Fire Service jurisdiction, charring 36,000 acres, according to state figures.

Such blazes blackened 109,415 acres of land so far this year.

Fire danger indices were “high” or “very high” in more than a dozen Florida counties this weekend. Citrus growers “are irrigating daily to keep moisture on the trees,” the USDA reported, and “ditches and canals are very dry in all [citrus] areas.” Plus, livestock producers are having to have hay shipped in as a result of the dry conditions.

And even though some rain was in the forecast for some Florida residents, state officials said they’re not out of danger by any stretch of the imagination.

“We are buckled up for a very long and very hot wildfire season,” said Adam Putnam, the commissioner of agriculture in Florida, according to Bloomberg News. 

Florida drought monitor report May 18, 2017.
U.S. Drought Monitor report May 18, 2017.

Meanwhile, others around the country are enjoying a relatively unusual drought-free reality as June nears.

Feet — yes, feet — of snow fell in Colorado and across the Rocky Mountains late last week as a potent spring storm plowed through the region. And places accustomed to persistent drought, like California, continue to bask in aftermath of an especially soggy winter.

“An active weather pattern continued to result in widespread showers, with some of the heaviest rain falling across the Plains, Midwest, and mid-South,” the U.S. Drought Monitor reported last week.

“Another area of significant precipitation stretched across the middle and northern Atlantic States, while showers also dotted the Northwest. In contrast, mostly dry weather prevailed from California to the lower Rio Grande Valley, as well as large sections of the lower Southeast.”

National drought snapshot, via U.S. Drought Monitor May 18, 2017, report.
National drought snapshot, via U.S. Drought Monitor May 18, 2017, report.

Though hot temperatures are forecast for parts of California early this week, a cold front is expected to move through the Pacific Northwest, bringing cooler conditions and more moisture, according to the National Weather Service. 

Floridians in the meantime will have to keep waiting for the rainy seasons to finally begin, later this month and into June.

“It’s kind of like an ugly cycle. Hot breeds dry and dry breeds hot,” meteorologist Grant Gilmore told the Tampa Bay Times last week. “…It doesn’t look like the cycle breaks in a big way any time soon.”

Military training exercise sparks 4,000-acre Florida wildfire

A military training exercise in Florida this week sparked a wildfire that has since burned thousands of acres and sent smoke billowing for miles.

The fire started Wednesday in the weapons-impact area of Avon Park Air Force Range in central Florida. Officials had restricted training activities that involved exploding or incendiary devices, but the fire still sparked and quickly grew to about 4,000 acres, news outlets in the area reported. 

Firefighters are generally letting the fire burn to containment lines, citing concerns about the possibility of encountering old munitions or un-exploded devices.

The range is used for air-to-ground training exercises  and consists of more than 100,000 acres of land. No structures were immediately threatened, and no injuries were reported.

 

Firefighter rescues fawn from West Mims Fire; extreme conditions persist

With Georgia’s West Mims Fire now making continual headlines, photos of smoke plumes and falling ash are seemingly everywhere. That means this photo from a couple weeks ago is sure to make the rounds, too.

Published April 28 on InciWeb, the shot of a firefighter carrying a fawn to safety quickly got buried in a tide of photos showing the fire’s massive smoke plumes and stories about the front jumping containment lines. Ash fell on parts of downtown Jacksonville, Florida, over the weekend.

The West Mims Fire burns along Highway 94, near St. George, in this photo posted Monday on InciWeb.
The West Mims Fire burns along Highway 94, near St. George, in this photo posted Monday on InciWeb.

According to the latest updates, the West Mims Fire has burned more than 140,000 acres. Another 7,000 acres has burned by Monday afternoon, and flame lengths up to 150 feet were reported.

Tuesday’s outlook was anything but promising.

“The fire will be fuel-driven and plume-dominated, meaning that when tall columns develop, they could abruptly collapse, sending downburst winds in all directions. Two columns could also develop at the same time,” officials said. “All this extreme fire behavior will create very dangerous conditions for firefighters.”

All eyes on Florida as wildfires burn throughout state

Above: Active wildfires are burning across Florida, as shown in this Florida Forest Service map depicting the situation as of Tuesday morning.

Dozens of wildfires are burning through Florida in what continues to be an unusually dry spring and an exceptionally busy start to fire season.

As of 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, 27 active fires larger than 100 acres were burning 27,417 acres across state jurisdiction. A total of 125 fires were affecting various regions of the state and burned more than 31,000 acres.

Florida's forecast fire indices paint a bleak picture of the situation affecting the state in an unusually dry spring, as shown in this map from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Florida’s forecast fire indices paint a bleak picture of the situation affecting the state in an unusually dry spring, as shown in this map from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Burn bans are in place across a large swath of the state. Forecast fire danger indices for Tuesday called for “very high” or “extreme” fire danger in counties across the state.

“Florida wildfires have burned nearly four-and-a-half times more acreage under state jurisdiction than the same time last year,” said S. Kinley Tuten, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, according to USA TODAY. 

“Florida is in the middle of its worst wildfire season in years – with no end in sight,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, CBS-Miama reported Monday. 

While much of the United States has seen reprieve from drought conditions in recent months, the situation has worsened significantly across Florida since February, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. 

The drought situation in Florida has worsened significantly since February, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
The drought situation in Florida has worsened significantly since February, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Satellite time-lapse of West Mims Fire smoke

The new Goes-16 satellite that is still not fully operational captured stunning imagery of the smoke plume from the West Mims Fire blowing over Florida and the Atlantic Ocean.

And the view from the ground:

West Mims Fire in Georgia sends ash to Jacksonville, Florida

The sprawling West Mims Fire that has been burning since April, largely in a south Georgia swamp, broke containment lines on Saturday and sent ash falling as far away as downtown Jacksonville, Florida. 

The lightning-caused fire was reported on April 6 in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and has burned more than 135,000 acres. Crews on Saturday dealt with gusty winds and relative humidity levels around 18 percent, which drove the blaze past containment lines and fanned it farther east.

“The fire moved aggressively to the east and southeast against an enhanced air and ground attack today,” officials wrote in a Saturday night InciWeb update. 

The fire and a blanket of falling ash on Saturday unnerved some residents near downtown Jacksonville, the Florida Times-Union reported. 

Similar conditions were forecast for Sunday, and evacuation orders remained in place. Additional heavy air tankers were expected to arrive on Sunday from California and Montana to assist the approximately 535 personnel assigned to the incident.

The West Mims Fire remains just 12 percent contained. No injuries have been reported. Full containment isn’t expected until Nov. 1.