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.

What does Logistics do on a wildfire in Florida?

Above: Logistics Section Chief Cindy Schiffer with the Southern Area Blue Team. From the video.

We appreciate it when local units put together short videos, especially at a fire, showing the public what they are doing. This particular one, filmed at the 21,000-acre Cowbell Fire at Big Cypress National Preserve in south Florida, features Logistics Section Chief Cindy Schiffer explaining how her section provides the support firefighters need to continue battling the fire. It’s very well done.

Dozer burns in Florida wildfire, operator unhurt

Dozer burnover Okeechobee County
Dozer burnover in Okeechobee County, Florida. Photo by Florida Forest Service.

The Florida Forest Service reported that on Sunday a tractor plow was overrun by a fast-moving fire and was destroyed in Okeechobee County, near NW 144 Ave. and NW 286 Street, 13 miles southwest of Yeehaw Junction. The operator escaped and was not injured.

The fire eventually burned about 450 acres.

map Dozer burnover Okeechobee County
Map showing the location of the dozer burnover Okeechobee County, Florida.

West Mims Fire burns in Florida and Georgia

map West Mims Fire
The West Mims Fire is burning on the border of Georgia and Florida. The red and yellow squares represent heat detected by a satellite, the most recent (red) was seen at 2:19 p.m. EDT April 10, 2017. (click to enlarge)

(Originally published at 5:20 p.m. EDT April 10, 2017.)

Since the West Mims Fire started from a lightning strike on April 6 it has burned about 3,800 acres, growing substantially on Sunday and Monday.

The fire is 16 miles west of St. George, Georgia at the southern end of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and on private land just north of Florida Highway 2 on both sides of the Georgia/Florida state line.

Most fires in the Refuge, which is a Wilderness Area, are allowed to burn with little interference from humans, but with it on private land outside the Refuge firefighters are taking action to stop the spread.

Personnel with the Georgia Forestry Commission and Florida Forest Service are working the fire along with federal firefighters from the Refuge.

Below is an excerpt from an April 9 press release, but with the rapid growth of the fire on the 9th and 10th, it appears that fire managers have stepped up their suppression activity since the reported April 8 meeting:

…A meeting was held the morning of April 8 to discuss strategy. Representatives were present from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Georgia Forestry Commission, U.S. Forest Service, Florida Forest Service, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and Baker County Emergency Management. Monitoring of the West Mims Fire will continue over the next 48 hours. Personnel with the Florida Forest Service at John M. Bethea State Forest will refresh fire lines on the southeast corner off Perimeter Road.

There will be a follow-up meeting on Friday, April 14 of the primary responders to re-evaluate the status of the wildfire and to discuss future strategy of attack.

west mims fire
An undated and uncaptioned photo posted on the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge Facebook page on April 9, 2017.