Officer shows how small spark can become wildfire

- Firefighters can't stress enough how dangerously dry conditions are right now.

Something small, like a lit cigarette or hot embers off a grill can be enough to start a raging wildfire.

Rangers at the Myakka River District have worked non-stop over the last few weeks to extinguish wildfires. They responded to calls Wednesday for fires started by an illegal burn and a welder.

They're asking everyone to take extra care when dealing with anything that could start a fire because one spark can travel quickly.

“All this right here is usually bright green full grass. Right now we pretty much have dirt, sand, and leaves,” Myakka River District Duty Officer Brett Steffen demonstrated for FOX 13.

That's the way nearly all of Florida could be described right now.

Officer Steffen says the crunchy ground cover mixed with a tiny flame could mean disaster. Earlier this month a large wildfire started near Gandy Boulevard and Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg. It caused traffic delays and concern for home and business owners.

The culprit was a lawnmower.

It's more common than you might think. A fire in Winter Haven was also sparked by a lawn mower.

"A flat tire can spark it if you're riding on the rims, breaks going out. Any kind of metal dragging on a vehicle. Trains can start a fire. If there’s grass growing up a power line, once it gets into the transformer it can spark a wildfire," Officer Steffen explained.

He says even electric fences, cigarettes, or a car's catalytic converter can be hazardous.

“We've had metal cutters spark wildfires, hay can spontaneously combust. That just happened the other day. Even glass off a bottle can act as a magnifying glass and spark a wildfire," he said.

Chains dragging off a truck or trailer can also ignite a fire.  Steffen says anything that can cause a spark can lead fire – which right now means massive wildfires.

"Even rocks getting stuck in tires or an ATV taking off too fast; rocks can hit and spark," Officer Steffen said. “Once it gets ignited and gets a little bit of flame, it will take off and run on you and it'll get big before you know it."

With conditions as dry as they are, forest rangers ask everyone to simply pay attention.

If you start a fire, even accidentally, it could end up costing you. If there is damage to property you have to replace it and you could have to pay for forestry services.

Burn bans are in effect in Pasco, Manatee, Sarasota, Polk, Citrus and Hernando counties. That means no campfires, no fireworks, and no burning trash or debris. 

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