Forestry officials say hurricane-related debris is fuel for wildfires

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BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Hurricane Michael knocked down hundreds of thousands of trees in our area, which is becoming fuel for wildfires. Forestry officials say there are 72 million tons across 11 counties in the Panhandle.

You can find downed trees and other vegetation debris from Hurricane Michael just about everywhere in Bay County, but some of that debris is also fuel for wildfires.

"One of the big tasks ahead of the Florida Forest Service and other cooperators and other people in the area are going to be to make sure they monitor all of this 'fuel' that's laying on the ground," said Florida Forest Service Public Information Officer Melanie Banton.

Banton said there are 72 million tons of that fuel across 11 counties, which is 58 tons of fuel per acre.

"We have asked for $39 million in funding to help us with the mitigation process and that would include trying to remove some of these fuels cutting back these timbers; reforestation, replanting these trees," said Banton.

She said they've responded to around 20 wildfires in the past two weeks, including the Allanton wildfire. Banton said those trying to burn piles should keep a safe distance and be aware of the debris.

"They need to look at those setbacks. We're talking 25 feet from the home, 25 feet from the woodland area, 50 feet back from the road, and 150 feet back from any other structure," said Banton.

Banton also said to make sure your house is clear of debris. Keep your lawns cut and burn piles during cooler days, and make sure there isn't a burn ban in place.

Forestry officials said an 8'x8' pile is reasonable to burn. They say anything above that needs a permit. For more information call the Florida Forest Service at 850-373-1801.