LAKE WALES, FL -- Don’t look now, but it’s nearly brush-fire season in the Bay Area and those who know say it could be a bad one.
After Hurricane Irma and a couple of deep freezers this year, there is a tremendous amount of debris that is either fallen over, or laying on the ground drying out.
A super fuel for this fire season.
“The fires can last longer, burn hotter, and faster,” said Todd Chlanda with the Florida Forestry Office in Polk County.
Chlanda says there’s good reason to worry.
Last year’s brush fires that scorched thousands of acres, shut down Highway 60 and destroyed dozens of structures could be just a sample of what we get this fire season.
Dry air. Hot temperatures. A lot more debris.
“Not a good combination,” said Chlanda.
It’s got people in eastern Polk County on edge, as some smaller fires have already been flaring up.
“Yeah, we all get a little nervous,” said Tom Plante, who remembers people watching helplessly as fires inched toward their Lake Wales property last year and how some of them were quickly evacuated. Some coming home to find charred ruins.
“Just a lot of stuff being burned. Peoples' camps that they put a lot of time and effort and money into,” said Plante.
Plante’s done what he can to clear his own property, but there are thousands of acres around him littered with trees, branches and other debris.
It’s nerve-racking to know "that at any time, you know, a fire could be coming from a lightning strike or whatever during the rainy season and it could all go away,” he said.
The Forestry Department and local fire agencies are conducting some prescribed burns to clear the dead debris near roads and communities.
Last week you could smell the smoke all over Tampa Bay from a thousand-acre burn in southern Citrus County.
“We can’t anticipate where wildfires are going to occur. So, just as we go out and do prescribed burning, we look at areas that have the most vegetation that is going to be most beneficial to the public and our residents,” said Chlanda.
Still, it won’t be long before it gets too dry and too dangerous even for prescribed burns. So, in the meantime, Chandla says there are a few things all of us can do now to create a safe buffer around your own property.
“They can keep the grass cut. They can keep their gutters cleaned out. They can keep trees pruned up. Move any type of debris piles away from the home,” said Chlanda.
And remember, even small brush fires can send ashes flying into neighborhoods, threatening homes and businesses.
So just because you live in the city, don’t assume you’re out of the woods.