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Blackwater Issues A 'No Burn' Request

Florida Forest Service

Residents in Escambia, Santa Rosa, and Okaloosa counties are advised to refrain from any type of outdoor burning for the next several days.

It’s getting dry out there.

That’s the word from the Florida Forest Service’s Blackwater Center, thanks to a cold front that’s bringing a change in the weather.

“It will feel like fall; breezy and quite cool,” said Eric Esbensen, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Mobile. Daytime temperatures will be in the mid-70s this weekend, with lows in the low- to mid-40s.

“Relative humidity levels look like they’re going to go into the mid-30 percent range during the day Friday,” Esbensen says. “Further inland, they can be in the lower-to-middle 30 range near the Blackwater area near the Florida-Alabama border.”

With little chance of rain, that combination is prompting an increase in the fire danger level for the district, as well as an increase in the response level of Forest Service fire crews.

Once the green light is given to resume burning, there are some measures to take to ensure property – and lives – are protected.

“Florida has a 12-month wildfire season, but into October-November you start to get that seasonal dryness where we see a rapid increase in the number of wildfires,” said Joe Zwierzchowski at the Forest Service’s Blackwater District.

Zwierzchowski says control measures for yard debris fires under control are fairly straightforward, starting with location.

“The pile has to be less than eight feet in diameter, 25 feet away from any woods, bushes and any combustible structure,” said Zwierzchowski. “It also needs to be 25 feet away from your house; 50 feet from paved public roads, and 150 feet from your neighbor’s house or another occupied building.”

Don’t turn your back on a fire; keep a garden hose and shovel handy just in case, and when finished, place the remnants into a non-combustible “burn barrel.”

While yard debris is OK, there are materials that should not be burned because they can produce toxic smoke. Those include treated lumber, paper products and household garbage.

In addition to the warning to residents, authorizations for large piles and acreage burns will not be issued at this time. Blackwater and the other forestry districts in Florida do not issue burn bans – that’s a call for the 67 individual counties.

Zwierzchowski says if some decide to ignore the request, and if the fire gets out of control to the point where Blackwater and local firefighters are needed, the tab could be pretty steep.

Whoever’s found at fault for the fire can face the suppression costs,” Zwierzchowski said. “The bulldozers we use don’t come cheap. The manpower does not come cheap. If it gets really bad and we have to bring out helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft, those costs can run into the $10,000-$20,000 range.”

Since the start of 2016, there have been almost 2,400 wildfires across Florida, scorching more than 68,000 acres. Updated figures for the Blackwater district were not available.