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State urges wildfire preparations despite a wetter winter 2023-24

The Sandy Fire in the Big Cypress National Preserve has been burning for a week. Fire officials say lighting startred the blaze, which has charred nearly 10,000 acres and is causing smoke to reduce visibility along area roadways
Matt Counts
National Park Service
The Sandy Fire in the Big Cypress National Preserve in 2023. Fire officials say lighting started the blaze, which charred nearly 10,000 acres and is caused smoke to reduce visibility along area roadways

Florida had a wetter winter than last year, but state officials are advising people to prepare for drier conditions that will increase chances of wildfires.

The Division of Emergency Management lists the current threat of wildfires across the state as “low,” but Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson said Wednesday people should limit debris on their properties as wildfire season begins.

“Prepare your home regularly by clearing your roof and gutters or prepare your yard by creating and maintaining a defensible space around your home,” Simpson said during an appearance at the Florida Forest Service Valrico Forestry Station in Dover.

Last year, with limited rainfall, dry brush and downed trees from Hurricane Ian, Florida recorded more than 2,650 wildfires that burned nearly 101,200 acres.

Drought conditions required several counties to issue burning bans and prohibit burning yard debris.

Florida Forest Service Director Rick Dolan said that through Sunday, his agency had responded to 518 fires that affected 8,190 acres this year.

The state had “significant” fires during the past week in Pensacola and Martin County, Dolan said.

A rainy winter allowed the agency to conduct prescribed burns that reduce kindling that feeds wildfires.

“The weather service is not predicting an abnormally dry spring, just a little bit drier than normal,” Dolan said. “Again, we're going into the spring with a fair amount of moisture in the woods, and that’s good for us.”