Irma debris to help fuel fires across Florida this year

Posted at 4:55 PM, Jan 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-29 16:55:36-05

BRADENTON, Fla. — We're still in winter, but you may not realize that in some parts of the Bay Area, firefighters have been battling at least one wildfire a day.

Patrick Mahoney, with Florida's Forest Service in the Myakka district tells ABC Action News they have had 21 wildfires so far in January. 

Compare that to the eight in January in 2017.

Mahoney says part of the problem this year is all the Irma debris that's been left behind in the wooded areas across Florida.

He points out that neighborhoods have been cleaned up, but the state parks and land have been barely touched.

Mahoney walked with us through state land in Bradenton, where he came across downed trees he's never seen. 

"I would not be surprised if in the next two years, if we see a higher increase in fire activity just because what's on the ground," he said.

Not only are the dead trees, limbs, and stumps fuel for the fire — it's still been abnormally dry.

"Right now, the Myakka district is the driest in the state," he said. 

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The forest service usually fights fires with bulldozers, and with all the debris in the way, firefighters will have to go around the fires, instead of going straight into them. 

Mahoney adds that the personnel on the front lines are highly skilled and trained — and they're already planning how to fight this year's fire season.

Fire activity usually starts up at the end of February, but they say it's already here.

Mahoney adds that if you have a home near a wooded area, that embers from a fire can travel up to one mile.