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Local News

Prescribed Burns In Blackwater Underway

Florida Forest Service

Officials with the Florida Forest Service are urging those planning to burn yard debris in the next few days to use extreme caution.

Residents throughout the three-county Blackwater District,Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa, may see smoke from prescribed burning operations. Conditions are favorable; with wind speeds topping 10 mph and humidity levels falling to the 30% range.

“Those two things, combined with the fact that we had that early freeze back in November, which killed a lot of the small grasses and shrubs,” said Joe Zwierzchowski, the Blackwater District’s Information Officer. “It’s nothing to be terribly alarmed about, but something to remain conscious of. And it is helping raise the fire danger level at this time.”

Predicted conditions could push those Fire Danger Levels from moderate to high for a brief time. Zwierzchowski stopped short of urging residents not to burn. Rather, he too advises caution.

Meanwhile, a controlled burn is underway inside Blackwater State Forest. The conditions that make burning by amateurs rather chancy, are just right for the pros, who benefit from extensive preparation beforehand.

“We’ll burn anywhere from 35,000 to 50,000 acres a year. It’s just part of the natural cycle of things,” Zwierzchowski said. “Right now, we’re on a 2,500 acre controlled burn. There’s a tremendous amount of work that goes into it. Everything from maintaining some roads and trails, to surveying the land and making the weather and everything lines up.”

After the prep time comes the burn, and after the burn comes the post-mortem. Forestry personnel retrace their steps, and look for ways to do the next burn even better.

With three weeks remaining in 2014, Firefighters from Blackwater have battled 121 wildfires which have scorched just over 3,700 acres. Across Florida, more than 1,800 fires have burned over 88,000 acres.

“A relatively slow year for both the district and statewide,” says Blackwater’s Joe Zwierzchowski. “Fire season does go year-round in Florida, so when we do get good prescribed burning weather, we also have to stay on our toes in relation to wildfire.”

Neither red flag warnings from Florida Forest Service, nor burn bans from the three Blackwater counties, have been issued. Hours for burning yard debris, and only yard debris, are 8:00 a.m. until one hour before sunset each day. To find out more about Florida’s burn laws and regulations, go to www.FloridaForestService.com.