Dry Conditions Spark South Florida Wildfire Concerns


The National Weather Service said South Florida is experiencing one of the driest winters on record, as another brush fire broke out on Tuesday.

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According to Meteorologist Robert Molleda, most areas in South Florida have received only 20 percent of normal dry season rainfall and some spots as little as 10 percent. He said South Florida has had about 8 to 10 fewer inches of rainfall than normal.

A possible primary factor in the dry spell is the predominance of La Nina, a climate condition in which the Pacific waters cool substantially, creating a blocking high pressure system that does not allow normal moisture to permeate the atmosphere.

"La Nina is still strong and doesn't show any signs of weakening until late summer or early fall, so we expect this dry trend to continue," said Molleda.

The wildfire season is normally in April or May, but because of these conditions, the dangerous season has already begun.

"We all know that we are in the dry season, so we're not supposed to get a lot of rainfall at this time of year. But even for the dry season, it's just been extremely dry," Molleda said.

On Monday, a wildfire threatened warehouses near Southwest 136th Street and 127th Avenue. Forestry officials said the fire was especially dangerous because of "spotting," which means the wind carried embers from the original fire to other areas, sparking even more fires.

Officials said the fire was very difficult to contain and that easterly winds fanned the flames.

Experts said 70 percent of all wildfires are set by people, either by accident or on purpose, and the conditions this year set up South Florida for the perfect firestorm.

"The public needs to be extra careful. Don't throw cigarettes out the window. Be cautious when riding an all-terrain vehicle in the brush, and even if you pull over on the side of the road, shut off your engine. The heat from your exhaust system can spark a fire," said Scott Peterich, a mitigation specialist from the Florida Division of Forestry.

Weather officials said they expect about eight more weeks of dry weather before any significant rainfall. One positive factor, however, is that Lake Okeechobee continues to stay around a depth of 12 feet, thanks to rains from Tropical Storm Fay in 2008.

Firefighters are battling a new wildfire in Miami-Dade County, just one day after another fire consumed about 10 acres.

The smaller brush fire burned in the area of Southwest 127th Avenue and Southwest 285th Street in southwestern Miami-Dade County, near the Homestead Air Force Base.

Tuesday's fire sparked near a blaze that burned on Monday afternoon near Tamiami Airport.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue officials said Tuesday's fire burned about 10 acres and spawned several smaller fires.

Firefighters from Miami-Dade County and the Florida Division of Forestry battled the flames. Fire officials said the westerly wind blew the fire further away from nearby homeless shelters and a school.

No injuries were reported. Officials are investigating the cause of the fire.

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