Northwest Florida at a high risk for wildfires this year

JACKSON COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - It's almost summer, but it's already wildfire season.

Two big causes of wildfires are dry conditions and lightning, but the number of man-made fires is increasing.

Florida Forest Service Wildfire Mitigation Specialist Hannah Bowers said that while wildfires happen year-round in Florida, this time of year is especially dangerous.

"Right now, late May, June, and July, is historically what time of year that we see fires in northwest Florida," Bowers said.

This year is being compared to the wildfire seasons of 1998 and 2011.

"We have had over 2,000 wildfires this year to date that have actually burned over 150,000 acres," Bowers said.

Officials said that even though the grass is getting a little greener, that doesn't mean the risk of wildfires is getting any lower.

For the past several weeks, Jackson County has been at a high risk for wildfires.

While Bay, Gulf, and south Walton Counties are at a higher risk, the fields in Jackson County are the prime spot for fires.

"Any wildfire that escapes has more of that quicker spread, than say a different vegetation, like timber vegetation," Bowers said.

Two of the biggest causes of wildfires in northwest Florida are escaped yard trash and debris burns.

Bowers said it's important you stay with your fire at all times.

Shovels, rakes, and water hoses are all items that could help stop a fire.

"If you're out there and your fire does escape from a yard trash or debris burn, if you're removing that vegetation out of the way of that fire, or even moving the vegetation back into it, you're not going to have anything else to burn there," Bowers said.

Her best advice is to make wildfire preparedness a priority.

The Florida Forest Service said you should NEVER leave an outdoor fire or hot grill unattended, never burn on windy days, be cautious of humidity since lower humidity increases the chance of a fire spreading if it breaks containment, keep a shovel and water hose handy in case a fire escapes, keep mulch and pine needles away from your home, fence, deck, roof, and gutters, and remove dead vegetation and debris from under decks and within 10 feet of your home.

You can learn more at FloridaForestService.com.