Fire officials request residents stay on high alert

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Posted: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 3:32 pm

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- You may have noticed smoke in the air in certain parts of the Suncoast recently. It's the result of some controlled burns and some not-so-controlled burns.

Emergency crews say they are getting busy, and are asking everyone to be on high alert.

"North Port and the Estates area is very, very dry." North Port fire marshal Michael Frantz says the drought numbers are rising. "This time of year we gear up for hurricane season and wildfire season."

Tuesday, the sheriff's helicopter dumped dozens of buckets of water to put one out that sparked up. "We believe it was a lightning strike just north of town. It ended up burning 10 acres."

With lawns and brush getting extra crispy, lots of smaller fires are breaking out here and there. So far they've been able to contain quickly. "Quarter acre or third of an acre fire starting by lawn mowers, charcoal grills being dumped out. We are starting to get a lot of those little spot fires."

One back in March threatened nearby homes. It's even dryer now.

Sarasota County's ordinance actually says you can't even have a backyard fire pit. North Port is a little more lenient; you can, but no yard debris or other uncontained burning.

“What we are trying to avoid is large fires, bonfire type of thing where it will emit embers," says Frantz.

Other fires around the state are having an impact. Alligator Alley has to be closed at times this week because of a nearby brush fire's smoke impacting visibility.

At the Carlton Reserve, Sarasota County actually purposely burned 150 acres Wednesday in what's called a prescribed burn, hoping to get out in front of one uncontained. "They are trying to lighten the fuel load so if a lightning strike happens out there, the fire that results is very minimal. Those are all very controlled, well supervised."

Some rain would help, but a lot more is needed.

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