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Thursday, Mar 26, 2015

Burn sparks call for blame

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Published:   |   Updated: April 3, 2013 at 09:41 AM

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County Commission Chairman Dave Russell said he will have all parties responsible for last Friday’s controlled burn — which ended up jumping the fire line and threatening property — present at next Tuesday’s county commission meeting.

“We want to know what the hell happened,” Russell said. “What were they thinking?”

The prescribed burn, more commonly referred to as a “controlled burn,” was conducted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on 200 acres in Chassahowitzka last Friday just west of Glen Lakes, where officials say approximately 50 homes were threatened at various times when the fire spread during the last hour of the burn to consume a total of 550 acres.

There were no deaths, injuries or structural damages, according to Don Ruths, a wildlife mitigation specialist with the Withlacoochee Forestry Center.

“I’m so thankful for that, and all the people out there helping out that day,” said Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area Manager Jennifer Roberts, who was tasked with conducting the prescribed burn. “We’ve been patrolling it since the beginning; all the edges are cool and we’ve put out all the smokers.”

“It’s not being called ‘out’ yet, but it’s contained.”

Roberts said all of Friday’s weather conditions lined up with her prescription, and the wind was forecast to be in the northeast before a wind shift out of the northwest hit early on in the burn.

“We had four brush trucks and a tractor on site,” Roberts said. “I had trouble controlling the fire and called forest service right away.”

A helicopter provided by the forest service to combat the fire used 14,750 gallons of water, or 59 buckets containing 250 gallons each.

“We conduct so many burns that go well, and of course this happens, and it’s the only one people hear about,” Roberts said.

Prescribed burns protect the public in the long run, Roberts said, since they reduce fuel levels in vegetation and make fires easier to control.

“That’s the bad thing: if we don’t burn it, Mother Nature is going to burn it one way or another,” Roberts said. “We’re going to keep an eye out for it until we get rain. I hope we get rain.”

Florida Forest Services will return to the site, evaluate the fire and officially declare it as contained, Roberts said.

Control of the fire has been turned over to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Ruths said, which is monitoring it and doing all the fire suppression work.

“It’s in their hands now,” Ruths said.

Russell said the condition did not seem favorable for such a burn, given the dryness of the season and the winds that day.

Roberts said she hasn’t heard anything about the chairman’s desire to meet with parties responsible for the burn.

(352) 544-5271

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