Without more rain, state fire experts fear the risk for wildfires will continue in Polk County

Polk County

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Polk County needs several days of widespread rain before the risk of wildfires will diminish, according to the Florida Forest Service.

While the amount of fires is on track with previous years, they are much larger in size.

“Our acreage last year was about 1,200 acres. This year, we’re over 3,200 acres. We have the same amount of fires but three times the acreage,” said Todd Chlanda, the wildfire mitigation specialist and public information officer for Florida Forest Service’s Lakeland district.

His district covers Polk, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

Of the 18 fires in the district currently being monitored, 12 of them are in Polk County.

“There’s more areas for people to get out in Polk County and go enjoy the nature part so we typically see a lot of fires in Polk County, typically southern Polk County,” said Chlanda.

Crews are monitoring the remnants of a 30-acre wildfire at the Lakeland Highlands Scrub, a nature area, which was started by a lightning strike, according to Chlanda.

“They will drive around the fire. They will put water on the fire and make sure that there is absolutely no way the fire will get out,” he said.

The Lakeland Highlands Scrub is closed until at least this weekend.

Tim Irwin saw the fire from his house.

“A couple days ago, there was a big cloud of smoke coming up out of the forest,” said Irwin.

He said he knew it was too large to be a house fire and grew concerned.

“We were talking about it a little bit and wondering what was going on until we found out there was a fire and it was being managed,” said Irwin.

Polk County, and other counties in our area, are in the “high risk” category of the Florida Forest Service’s Fire Danger Index.

“The month of May was one of the driest on record. We received very little rain. We had a lot of winds coming in,” said Chlanda.

Without steady rain over several days, Chlanda fears it won’t be enough to lessen the threat.

“Right now the ground is very dry so any rain that comes in is soaked up by the ground immediately,” he said.

He urges people to be cautious when setting fires or flicking cigarettes.

Polk County is still under a burn ban.

“If you have a campfire, you need to extinguish that campfire until it’s dead cold out that you can put your hand above it and feel no heat whatsoever,” said Chlanda.

Wildfires have destroyed some outhouse buildings and damaged one home in Polk County.

While they can be devastating, there are benefits for wildlife.

“All this will start greening up and sprouting back, It’ll come in better than it was before and the wildlife it’ll create new food plots for the wildlife,” said Chlanda.

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