Fla. Forest Service: 673-acre blaze started from prescribed burn

Officials said the prescribed burn on private land in St. Johns County jumped containment lines due to unexpected wind conditions

Sheldon Gardner
The St. Augustine Record, Fla.

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — The St. Johns County fire that spread to hundreds of acres this week was the result of a prescribed burn that escaped, said Julie Allen, public information officer for the Florida Forest Service Bunnell District.

The prescribed fire, intended to reduce vegetation that can be fuel for wildfires, was scheduled to be about 3 acres on Monday, she said. It reached 673 acres, according to an updated estimate from the district.

The Forest Service was conducting the burn on private land near Oscar Ashton Road, which is south of County Road 208, when the fire jumped containment lines, Allen said.

"The winds came in a lot earlier than expected," she said.

The Forest Service uses the National Weather Service in looking at a forecast for a proposed burn area and determining if it will be safe, she said.

Forest Service officials outside of the district will investigate to learn more about what happened, Allen said.

As of Thursday, the Florida Forest Service had created containment lines around about 95% of the fire ― containment lines clear vegetation and other fuel out of the fire's path. Structures were not in danger during the fire, Allen said.

Crews worked on Thursday to eliminate smoldering spots of debris. Dozers pushed trees and piles of debris around to search for and eliminate smoldering spots. Rain fell in the area on Wednesday night and helped the firefighting operation, Allen said.

It could take weeks for the fire to totally burn out, making it safe for crews to stop working the area.

To keep wildfires from burning out of control and possibly endangering lives and property, the Forest Service conducts prescribed burns, a routine part of its operation.

Fires escape less than 1% of the time for burns authorized by the Forest Service, Allen said.

Florida is a fire-dependent ecosystem, she said. Wildfires burn down vegetation, and the cycle of burning and regrowth provides nutrients for animals, Allen said.

Most wildfires are caused by lightning strikes, Allen said. While they can happen year round, they tend to happen more frequently from April through early July.

As St. Johns County's population continues to expand, more people are living closer to wooded areas.

Allen said it's important for people to mitigate their wildfire risk, and there are a number of ways to do so.

People should have 30 to 50 feet between their homes and wooded areas. This not only helps prevent homes from catching fire, but will also provide room for brush trucks and other equipment to get behind one's home if needed, she said.

The Forest Service offers help in assessing homes and communities and reducing wildfire risks, Allen said.

Allen is also the district's wildfire mitigation specialist and can answer questions about how St. Johns County residents can help protect their communities from wildfires. She can be reached by phone at 386-585-6156 or email at Julie.Allen@FDACS.gov.

The Forest Service provides multiple daily updates about wildfire conditions in St. Johns County and active wildfires on its website.

As of Thursday, St. Johns County was at a moderate risk of wildfire, according to the Forest Service.

The county is in a drying pattern that started Monday with high winds, and it's expected to last for more than a week, Allen said. So the Forest Service expects to increase its fire readiness and response efforts.

As for the next couple of months, Allen declined to make a prediction.

"It's so much different than ... predicting hurricane season," she said.


(c)2021 The St. Augustine Record, Fla.


WILDFIRE UPDATE The #oldsawmillroadwestfire in Volusia County is now 100% contained at 31 acres. No further updates...

Posted by Florida Forest Service - Bunnell District on Wednesday, May 19, 2021


McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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