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The 2011 summer of burning forests and heat

With multiple fires burning across north Florida and Georgia, opening my door to a wall of smoke has become a common thing, in what is being reported to be one of the busiest wildfire seasons in recent history.

At one point, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for Florida, citing the ongoing danger of wildfires and severe drought conditions.

As would be expected, many counties, Baker among them, are under a burn ban and that includes setting off fireworks.

I usually pay less attention to the weather than most, but I’ve been monitoring the daily reports more closely than usual, always hoping for rain to quell the fires.

With cloudless skies and temperatures consistently soaring into the high 90s – last week it reached 100 twice according to the Macclenny weather tower – there seemed little hope for significant precipitation.

CNN News coverage on June 15 reported an astonishing 30-40 new fires erupting daily.

Lightning strikes are to blame for many — not surprising as Florida, on average, is struck by lightning about a million times each year.

What’s unusual about this year, according to wildfire mitigation coordinator Gerry LaCavera, is that the majority of those strikes have occurred over the last month alone.

The News4Jax website reported June 21 that the Division of Forestry has so far battled more than 1,500 fires with nearly 200,000 acres burned.

The MODIS Rapid Response System, a component of NASA’s Aqua and Terra satellites, was developed to feed daily satellite images of the Earth’s land masses in near real time.

The satellites frequently capture images of wildfires and are a valuable resource for organizations like the U.S. Forest Service.

The NASA website features a series of stunning photographs of the many fires currently active across the country from the Honey Prairie Fire in the Okefenokee Swamp to those ranging across the western United States.

Just Google NASA – fire and smoke images, then click on the link to view them.

The weather forecast this week predicted rain for many parts of Florida and even as I write this column late on Tuesday, the clouds suddenly gave up some of the precious water they have been selfishly coveting.

The brief cloudburst was welcome, but it seemed like too little too late.

Especially for two veteran Florida firefighters who lost their lives last Monday battling the Blue Ribbon Fire in Hamilton County which has been burning since June 16.

Josh Burch of Lake City and Brett Fulton of White Springs were cutting fire lines on their tractors when the fire, believed to be contained, suddenly flared and overpowered them.

This unexpected loss of two men dedicated to the service of protecting others is a tragic event and reminds us that as much as we humans think we are in control, Mother Nature often has the last word.

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