HUDSON, Fla. - With the holiday weekend just a few days away and Florida continuing a stretch of bone-dry weather, fire officials are warning people to be extra careful. Wildfires are sparking easily, spreading fast, and burning thousands of acres across the state.
When a fire ignites, the clock is ticking. The challenge is not just dousing the flames but, in some cases, getting to them.
"With our urban interface that we have in this county, it's extremely important for us to have people on the scene quickly to protect lives and property," said Walter Lewellen, Resource Management Chief for Pasco County Fire Rescue.
Wednesday, Pasco County Fire Rescue unveiled two new tools in their toolbox - the first, a lifted Skeeter Brush Truck with military-grade tires that can carry 400 gallons of water.
"It does allow us access to difficult areas and difficult terrain in order to get water on these fires," Lewellen explained.
The second is an International Emergency-One Tanker Truck.
"It has 2,000 gallons of water and it is also four-wheel drive," Lewellen said.
They arrive just in time. It's been hot and dry for weeks throughout Florida, leaving brittle grass and brush one spark away from wildfire. Wednesday night, Florida Forest Service was tracking 63 wildfires actively burning more than 5,400 acres.
Just Monday, a burn pit in Hudson that the user thought he'd put out destroyed a car, two trailers and a small barn.
This week, Polk County firefighters battled a wildfire just off Tiger Lake Road, east of Lake Wales. Though they thought it was under control, it flared up again Wednesday. Another fire in the River Ranch Hunt Club area destroyed sixty camps.
"We need more than just a spot shower, we need several days, four to five days of substantial rain to wet things down and get that moisture back into the fuels," said Todd Chlanda with Florida Forest Service.
Until that happens, fire officials ask you to enjoy the holiday weekend while remembering what they're up against.
"Make sure if you're grilling that when you're done, you put out the charcoal, you don't just let it sit there," said Christina Cordon, Pasco Parks Superintendent.
"Ember can hit these materials in the ground or in the woods and we can very quickly have a very large fire on our hands," Lewellen said.
The new elevated brush truck isn't just valuable for fighting fires. It can also help search for someone who's lost in the woods or rescue people trapped in flooded areas.