Spring shaping up to be bad season for central Florida brush fires

NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. - Peak fire season is here and so far, it's been a troubling one for central Florida.

Conditions are ripe for brush fires due to the below normal rainfall, and the cold, dry winter.

"If this continues, this is going to be a bad year," said Dave Fogler with the Florida Forest Service out of Dade City.

He says his team works tirelessly to prevent wildfires by starting some of them on their own.

Last week, crews started a prescribed burn in New Port Richey because the aging vegitation was a ticking time bomb.

That will be their last prescribed burn of the season until the summer rains begins, because it is too dry.

"The main reason we did this one is to try and protect the houses around it," he said. "If we get in there and burn it under controlled conditions, then you're not going to have a wildfire burn it."

Carol Carlson just moved into a home that sits right next to the woods.

"It took a couple of days for the smoke to clear, and everybody was complaining about the smoke, but I would rather have a little smoke than fire," she said.

While most controlled burns go as planned, some do escape.

An unexpected shift in wind caught the Florida Fish and Wildlife off guard on Friday in the Weeki Wachee area.

The 200-acre brush fire quickly grew to 500 acres, threatening homes and forcing some evacuations.

Fogler says now is the time to get your home and property ready for the brush fire season.

"Keep the vegetation trimmed back away from house, keep your roof clean, and make sure there's enough room to get a fire truck between your house and the woods," he said. "Those three things right there will save 99 percent of the houses."

So far this year, brush fires have destroyed 18 homes in Florida.

The most likely causes are arson, carelessness, and lightning strikes.

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