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Blaze threatens Florida homes

BY SUSAN KIM | Polk County, FL | April 13, 2001

A brush fire in Polk County Thursday afternoon burned more than 200 acres and threatened several homes.

About 30 people had to be evacuated until fire fighters brought the fire under control with the help of two air tankers that dropped some 3,000 gallons of water, said Chris Kintner, spokesperson for the Florida Division of Forestry.

The cause of the fire is still being investigated, she added.

The fire burned in Lake Wales, near the Indian Lake Estates neighborhood. Kintner said that homes would have been destroyed had it not been for educational efforts about fire preparation. "We have been working with landowners to explain the benefits of preparing for fire hazards and we have been prescribing controlled burns for the area," she said.

Wildfires are easily ignited and spread because Florida is currently experiencing a severe drought. Drought causes low soil moisture levels, creating ultra-dry brush that catches fires easily. In addition, limited surface water supply is limiting the ability of firefighters to combat blazes.

Since January the state has had some 1,300 fires that have burned more than 83,000 acres.

At this time last year, many rivers and lakes maintained sufficient water levels for firefighters to use. But this year many of those same rivers or lakes are dry, near dry, or have levels too low to support helicopter fire fighting operations.

At present, conditions include below-normal precipitation levels, below-normal surface water supplies (rivers, lakes, ponds, and streams), and below- normal groundwater supplies (aquifers).

Water officials are reporting that supplies of drinking water and water for industrial use could also grow short. Many counties have already imposed water restrictions.

The Hillsborough River, the primary water source for the city of Tampa, is experiencing less than 25 percent of normal flow.

When rains follow drought conditions, sinkholes can open up as porous layers of limestone below the surface dissolve and the weight of the overlying ground becomes too great.

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