Hurricane Irma debris could mean bad wildfire season

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Bay area residents should brace themselves for another active wildfire season, potentially worse than last year, thanks to Hurricane Irma.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam believes Hurricane Irma has created a higher risk because of an abundance of dried out trees, branches and plants knocked to the ground during the storm.

Residents in North Lakeland know the danger all too well. Last year an out of control brush fire crept eerily close to their homes.

“It was blazing pretty good!” Ronald Komisar said.

“We got the garden hoses out and started working on it. If we hadn’t, it would have burned a couple storage sheds down. And could have caught some houses on fire,” said Don Denbow, who helped save his neighbor’s property from the flames.

Residents told WFLA they are concerned about another season, especially looking at the field behind their homes full of dry and dead debris left behind after the storm.

“It’s going to happen again. It’s just a matter of time if they don’t clean it up,” Komisar said.

“We’re expecting it to be, this fire season, to be just as bad, if not worse than last year,” Florida Forest Service Wildfire Mitigation Specialist Todd Chlanda told WFLA. “The cleanup has been in residential areas. A lot of damage that was out in the forest really hasn’t been gotten to and cleaned up. Debris has been laying out there, drying out, just waiting for a spark to come by. It’s going to burn hotter, longer and faster.”

Commissioner Putnam has requested nearly $20 million in state funding to help combat the threat.

He’s seeking to upgrade firefighting equipment and wants to provide a $10,000 across-the-board pay raise for Florida’s 632 wildland firefighters, which would cost almost $8.3 million, including benefits.

“The 2017 wildfire season was one of the most active in recent years, so I’ve requested more than $11 million to purchase replacement fire suppression equipment and give our firefighters the tools they need to safely combat wildfires in Florida,” Putnam said in a statement. “In addition, I’ve asked for a $10,000 pay increase across the board for our wildland firefighters, who are demonstrably underplayed compared to their peers, to make sure we can recruit and retain at these positions where experience matters most.”

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