UPDATE (5:20 p.m.): Thursday afternoon Alachua County Fire Rescue Chief Harold Theus announced a countywide burn ban that will remain in effect through the Memorial Day weekend.
“After reviewing Alachua County’s current wildland fire conditions and in consultation with the Florida Forest Service a mandatory countywide burn ban has been issued,” a county statement said. “The burn ban will remain in effect until June 3, 2021.”
The move comes after the Fire Danger Index Report moved Alachua County into the “very high” risk category.
The burn ban includes unpermitted and non-exempted open incineration where burning results in the “products of combustion being emitted directly into the outdoor atmosphere without passing through a stack or chimney.” That includes campfires, bonfires, fireworks, and burning of household trash or construction debris, the county said.
The county noted not all grilling is prohibited. The ban allows use of barbecue grills or pits “where the total fuel area does not exceed three (3) feet in diameter and two (2) feet in height.” Burn activity authorized by the Florida Forest Service, Department of Environmental Protection and the City of Gainesville is also allowed under the ban.
The county said anyone who violates the ban will be liable for all costs associated with the violation. A Gainesville Fire Rescue press release said violating the ban is a second degree misdemeanor that could result in 60 days in jail and up to a $500 fine.
Our original story (12:55 p.m.):
Alachua County Fire Marshal John Adler is watching weather conditions closely and is in direct communication with the Alachua County Fire Rescue chief as rain chances get pushed back and dry conditions continue.
Alachua County is listed as No. 3 or “High” on the scale of 5, according to the Fire Danger Index Report put out by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). In addition, Gilchrist, Levy, Dixie, Putnam and Bradford counties are also listed as high danger, and the map shows more than 50 percent of Florida under the same rating.
“We are looking at it later this morning if we are at that point,” Adler said early Thursday. “There’s a couple counties around us that have already issued bans.”
According to the Florida Forest Service, Gilchrist County currently has a full burn ban in place.
Experts consider the dryness of soil as a factor when considering a burn ban. The Keetch-Byram Drought Index shows that South Florida soil is twice as dry as North Florida as of May 26.
“The range of the index is determined by assuming that there is 8 inches of moisture in a saturated soil that is readily available to the vegetation,” according to the report.
Reports of rain in Alachua County were initially reported for Saturday and Sunday, but those forecasts shifted today showing rain chances now Monday or later.
One sign of the dry conditions is that no burn permits are being issued by the Florida Division of Forestry, Adler said.
If a ban is issued, it will be in effect for a minimum of seven days, according to Alachua County Code of Ordinances.
Ultimately Alachua County Fire Rescue Chief Harold Theus will decide whether or not to issue a ban.
“We haven’t had a burn ban since last March,” Adler said.
The county issued a ban on March 23, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic but not because of dry conditions.
“It was because we were overrun with COVID-19 calls,” Adler said about the ban allowing ACFR and other fire safety crews to concentrate on responding to emergency medical calls. “That was lifted very quickly after that.”