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Florida wildfire outbreak: Governor declares a state of emergency

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Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency today, April 11, 2017, following the recent wildfires across the state and the high potential for increased wildfires to continue this year. 2017 is already the most active season since 2011.

In a statement released April 11, Scott said that forecasts predict hotter and drier conditions than normal in Florida during the coming months. Florida wildfires have already burned 250 percent more acreage during the first three months of 2017 than during the same time period last year. There are currently more than 100 active wildfires across more than 20 000 acres (8 000 hectares) in Florida.

"Much of Central and South Florida are approaching drought-like conditions and the chances for wildfires are continuing to increase with hotter temperatures and low rainfall. This may only get worse as we enter the hotter summer months and it is crucial that we take every action right now to be prepared. It is incredibly important that wildfire response is swift and deliberate and this state of emergency will make it easier for our state, regional and local agencies to quickly work together to protect our families, visitors, and communities," Scott said.

"Wildfires are burning more than 20 000 acres in Florida right now, and we haven’t seen this active of a season since 2011," Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said. "From St. George Island in the Panhandle to a wildfire just north of one of the world’s most famous tourist attractions in Orlando, we’re seeing that every area of our state is susceptible to wildfire. I thank Governor Scott for signing this executive order, which will ensure we have every resource available to us to combat these wildfires to protect life, property, and wildlife."

Earlier this year, Putnam warned that conditions the state is in could set the stage for a repeat of 1998 season when blazes spread across 500 000 acres (202 300 ha) and led to mass evacuations in Flager County and other parts of the state.

According to the Miami Herald, fire experts worry that in addition to the worsening drought, the state is loaded with fuel. An El Niño that preceded the dry winter spurred heavy growth of underbrush, adding to vegetation from past years. Normally the state burns about 2 million acres (809 400 ha) in advance of wildfire season, but only 200 000 acres (80 940 ha) underwent controlled burns last year.

The state’s Division of Forestry reported that wildfires had burned across more than 79 000 acres (32 000 ha) in 1 494 different fires as of Tuesday. However, those figures do not appear to include the state’s largest fires so far this year in the Big Cypress National Preserve, where more than 36 000 acres (14 560 ha) have so far burned. In mid-March, the Parliament fire scorched more than 26 000 acres (10 520 ha). Firefighters continued to battle another blaze, the Cowbell fire, about 1.6 km (1 mile) north of I-75 on the preserve Tuesday. The fire, which grew by 2 000 acres (809 ha) overnight, has so far spread across nearly 10 500 acres (4 250 ha). Last week, about 6 600 acres (26 700 ha) burned near the Everglades in Broward County.

Featured image: Orlando, Florida wildfire on April 7, 2017. Credit: TheRacerBoy101

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