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Dry weather -- combined with debris from trees and brush downed during last year's hurricanes -- could make Florida a prime target for severe wildfires this spring, a top forestry official said Thursday.
"What you may see on the 6 o'clock news in April, May and June is (pictures of wildfires in) Florida, instead of Arizona or New Mexico," said Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, who directs U.S. forest policy. "It's been extremely dry since the hurricanes, and it could be a very difficult season."
Unlike the West, where greater than expected rains could delay the fire season until at least midsummer, the fire risk in Florida is likely to peak this spring, Rey said.
Rey's comments came after a hearing on fire preparedness before a House subcommittee.
Above-average rains in the West and Southwest may mean a delayed, less severe fire season in California, Arizona and New Mexico, Rey said.
Conversely, a lack of rain and snow in the interior Northwest has led to extremely dry conditions that could mean a severe fire season in eastern Washington and Oregon, as well as northern Idaho and western Montana, Rey said. Fires in the Northwest are not expected to begin until late July or August.
Rey told the House Resources forestry subcommittee that the Forest Service again will rely on smaller planes and heavy helicopters to help fight wildfires across the West, after the Forest Service cut back on its use of big air tankers last year for safety reasons.
"We actually achieved a higher rate of success on initial attack with the reconfigured fleet we used last year than we had in previous years," Rey said.
The Forest Service and Interior Department terminated $30 million in contracts with private companies for 33 heavy tankers last year after the National Transportation Safety Board said it could not guarantee their airworthiness. Three such planes crashed between 1994 and 2002, killing seven crew members.
MIAMI (AP) -- Hot weather in South Florida is drying things out and has invited brush fires.
A 20-acre blaze burned near Lynn University in Boca Raton.
Another fire is burning in western Miami-Dade County. So far it has consumed over 400 acres.
Firefighters have yet to contain the blaze that started Tuesday along Krome Avenue just north of Tamiami Trail.
Division of Forestry officials are still investigating the cause of the brush fire.
March 16, 2006 — The continuing drought in the Southwest and the Central and Southern Plains foreshadows a severe wildfire season this spring, federal weather and fire management agencies predict.
The National Interagency Fire Center's Seasonal Wildland Fire Potential Outlook says the potential for wildfires will be above normal for Southern California, the Southwest, and the Southern Plains all the way to Florida.
"Drought will very likely persist or even worsen until the thunderstorm season arrives this summer," said Ed O'Lenic, chief of forecast operations for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.