Florida forest rangers helping battle regional wildfires, dry conditions put Tampa Bay at risk

FFS: area counties under 'significant drought'
Posted at 4:53 PM, Nov 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-18 16:53:43-05

Florida forestry officials are now warning of a wildfire threat in Tampa Bay.

"At any time we could start breaking out into large, complex fires," said Senior Park Ranger Brian Olsen with the Florida Forest Service.

Wildfires continue to scorch the Southeast, burning nearly 100,000 acres across states like Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina.

After seeing the devastation developing in the region, Olsen is now encouraging everyone to be careful when outside in Tampa Bay.

"It should be a wake-up call and a reality check for everyone," said Olsen. "It's out of sight, out of mind until it happens."

The Florida Forest Service says area counties are under a "significant drought."

A wet summer followed by an unusually dry November is a recipe for dangerous, widespread wildfires, according to Olsen.

"That means a lot of vegetation grew up nice and thick, well once it all dries out, there's a lot more available there," said Olsen. "Rain can be a double-edged sword when it comes to the forest."

As the region's wildfires show no signs of letting up, many Florida forest rangers are on the front lines, helping out-of-state crews.

Some rangers will remain in Tennessee and North Carolina through early December, missing the Thanksgiving holiday with their families.

"Once you get up there and you see the situation that a lot of them are in, they're very, very grateful," said Duty Officer Brett Steffen with the Florida Forest Service.