The fires in Florida continue to put up a large amount of smoke, as seen in this map produced today from satellite data.
Investigators have released a report on the Florida January 8 incident that we reported on in which smoke from an escaped prescribed fire may have mixed with fog causing poor visibility on Interstate 4 resulting in five fatalities in vehicle crashes. The report issued by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services says:
“…an unpredictable change in weather caused the prescribed burn to burn erratically which resulted in spot fires.”
Tampa Bay Online has more details:
“TALLAHASSEE – A state investigation has cleared wildlife officials who last month lost control of a prescribed burn that may have contributed to a 70-vehicle pileup on Interstate 4 in Polk County.
The investigation by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services concluded changing weather conditions Jan. 8 caused the 10-acre planned burn to jump firelines and spread to 400 acres. The National Weather Service said smoke from the fire could have combined with fog the next morning to cut visibility on the highway to nearly zero.
Five people died in the predawn pileup and resulting fires, prompting questions about how the fire got out of control and whether the state should have held a controlled burn in the dry season less than a mile from the interstate.
The Florida Highway Patrol is conducting a homicide investigation that also will look at whether smoke from the wildfire played a part in the wrecks.
The report by the Agriculture Department’s law enforcement division states those in charge of the fire followed correct procedures but that an “unpredictable change in weather caused the prescribed burn to burn erratically which resulted in spot fires.”
“There does not appear to be any evidence of criminal violations or gross negligence” by those involved in the burn, investigators concluded in their report.
Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission employees conducting the burn reported that the humidity had dropped sharply about an hour after the fire was set at 10 a.m. and winds picked up, spreading the fire outside the protective earthen barriers.
The National Weather Service confirms there was a drop in humidity at the fire site, but meteorologists said that could have been caused by the fire. As warm air from a fire rises, it forces drier air downward. Drier air aids the spread of fire, especially when rainfall has been sparse for a long period.
Daniel Noah, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the agency has no way of knowing whether wind speeds around the fire picked up or wind directions changed. However, Noah did not rule out that possibility.”
A preliminary report issued by the Florida Highway Patrol does not even mention the prescribed fire.
According to reports, smoke from an escaped prescribed fire combined with fog contributed to a 50-car pileup and three deaths on Interstate 4 in Florida between Orlando and Tampa. ABC Action News reported yesterday, January 8:
“POLK COUNTY– Crews are working to put out an oversized brush fire in Polk County.
Officials with the Division of Forestry say they issued a 50 acre prescribed burn today in the area of Old Grade Road and I-4.
They believe the wind may have led the fire to grow by an extra 200 acres.
They say no homes are being threatened at this time.
There are concerns that if the fire burns overnight, drivers may face smoky conditions by Wednesday morning.”
Then today ABC Action News further reports in a story about the incident:
“A mixture of fog and smoke from a controlled burn near Old Grade Road created extremely hazardous conditions early this morning.
The burn was supposed to cover only 50 acres, but got out of hand late yesterday and grew to more than 300 acres.“
More information from MyFox Tampa Bay:
“POLK CITY – Smoke and fog are causing a surreal scene in Polk County that’s forced the closure of a stretch of Interstate 4, and contributed to a massive pile-up.
All lanes of I-4 are closed between the Polk Parkway and U.S. 27. That’s roughly from Polk City to the Osceola County line.
The lingering smoke combined with the morning fog has brought visibility down to near zero, and deputies say at least 50 vehicles are involved in the massive wreck, and 20 of those are semi-trucks. Several vehicles caught fire, though most of the blazes seemed to be out by 8:30 a.m., judging by the diminishing amount of black smoke rising from the scene.
At least three people are dead, and several more motorists are trapped and waiting for emergency crews.
Those who are unhurt are being asked to stay in their cars for their own safely and the safety of rescue workers.
Yesterday’s brush fire began as a controlled burn, but it jumped a firebreak and eventually grew to 250 acres before being contained.”
According to TheLedger.com a Division of Forestry dozer was burned in the fire yesterday.