What began as a prescribed burn last Thursday morning in the Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve quickly became a wildfire when unpredictable weather conditions caused fire specialists to lose control, said Senior Forestry Ranger Jerry Horton.
The 210-acre fire was 90 percent contained as of Tuesday night, according to Jeff DiMaggio, Florida DEP Fire Management Officer. “There are just a few hot spots left,” he said. Crews expect to have it contained by the end of the week, he said. They will continue to monitor it for the next couple of weeks.
No injuries have been reported and no residences were damaged, DiMaggio said. Only a couple of homes were evacuated as a precaution. “We were able to hold it off – protect all the structures and no one got hurt,” he said.
The wildfire initially began with the test burn for the prescribed burn, DiMaggio said. Seven minutes after the start of the test, crews saw flames flare up 1400-feet away from the designated testing area. The actual prescribe burn never took place, DiMaggio said.
“Each time we started to get it under control, a new fire would start up 100-yards away,” he said.
Fighting the wildfire has been a multi-agency effort. In addition to the Florida DEP Parks Service and the Division of Forestry, crews from Cedar Key, Rosewood, Chiefland and Bronson fire departments were on hand to fight the blaze. A Florida Parks Service strike team of 10 men and four engines was on its way back to the Panhandle from South Florida when it was diverted to the Scrub for assistance. The Levy County Sheriff's Office, Levy County EMS and Williston Fire Department were also on scene.
Levy County Forester Sara Creel said that although the prescribed burn got out of hand in the Cedar Key Scrub, the over all goals were still met.
“We were trying to prevent a bigger wildfire – and we did,” she said. “June is our big wildfire season.”
One of the main objectives of controlled burning is to reduce hazardous fuels on the forest floor. “And it’s better to be on the ground, prepared with equipment, than not be around at all when lightning strikes,” she said.