Last week, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture, Adam H. Putnam, reminded Floridians to be wary of outdoor fires and other actions that can inadvertently start wildfires capable of devastating both human and natural environments. This Wildfire Awareness Week—April 5th to the 11th—brings the Florida Department of Agriculture together with the Florida Forest Service to raise awareness to help prevent forest fires in the Sunshine State.

In 1998, wildfires ravaged 500,000 acres and over 300 homes and businesses. The Wildfire Awareness Week was created to memorialize the devastation of those wildfires and to prevent such destruction from happening again.

Wildfires are a natural occurrence in Florida, sparking when lightening meets dry underbrush and kindling. Such wildfires have been happening for thousands of years, and many parts of the ecosystem have adapted. However, most wildfires in Florida these days are set by careless humans, and those wildfires commonly threaten human life and property.

Spring in Florida is the most dangerous time for wildfires as the vegetation and underbrush are parched and dead from the dry season and the wet season has not yet begun. It’s also when people are out enjoying Mother Nature and the pleasant temperatures. Something as innocent as an untended camp fire can start a wildfire that can burn for days and devastate wide swaths of land. Over 600 forest fires have occurred in Florida so far this year, burning nearly 7,000 acres.

To prevent further damage, the Florida Forest Service urges you to:

  • Stay knowledgeable about local burning restrictions
  • Follow Florida’s outdoor burn laws
  • Put out all fires that you cannot attend to personally
  • Be prepared with a shovel and hose if a fire gets out of control
  • Report suspicious wildfire activity to local law enforcement or the state’s Arson Alert Hotline at (800) 342-5869

Respecting fire and taking care to prevent wildfires will mean that you and those who visit after you can enjoy the Great Outdoors in Florida while protecting it at the same time.