CAPE CORAL, Fla. — “We are looking to be extreme again,” said Ryan Mason, the Lee County Forest Area Supervisor for Florida Forest Service Caloosahatchee Division.
Mason says the Florida Forest Service is already preparing for what could be another active fire season in Southwest Florida.
“We already have areas in Collier and Lee Counties touching 550 on the drought index, which substantially dry for this time of year,” said Mason.
That measurement of 550 is on the Keetch-Bryam Drought Index, which estimates soil moisture based on rainfall and temperatures and ranges from zero being very moist to 800 being extremely dry. This is very similar to what we saw last winter.
“Last year, Southwest Florida was the driest area in the state for quite some time,” said Mason. “We were fortunate not to have any large significant fires.”
But unlike last fire season, 2023 brings another set of obstacles in the wake of Hurricane Ian.
“The woodland vegetive environment has changed considerably,” said Mason. “There is a lot of salt curing near the barrier islands and on the coast that we are not used to seeing such proportionate scale.”
Mason also says with large number of trees blow over containing any fires becomes more difficult.
“It creates a massive challenge for us with our bulldozers that we fight fire with, because things that were vertical that we could go between, is now laying horizontal,” said Mason. “Now we have to go across. So, to leave a good clean containment line, which basically a line of bare dirt, it is getting extremely challenging to have to move those additional fuels that on the ground out of the way to ensure we have an adequate fire break to stop the forward progression of the fire.”
This challenge is nothing new for the state of Florida and was also seen in recent history after both Hurricane Irma in Southwest Florida and Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle.
“Personal experience tells me that it makes things much more challenging operating equipment, trying to get around these fires with them still moving in that heavy vegetation,” said Mason.
The Florida Forest Service is stressing that now is the time to clean up around your property of debris. That will not only lower the danger to property, but also give the Forest Service room to safely protect your home from a potential wildfire.