Much of Florida is in severe to extreme drought with wildfires sprouting across the state. This year to date, there have been over 2,000 wildfires and over 150,000 acres burned. If you’re not a Florida native, you might find this unusual or suspect climate change as the culprit. However, wildfires are a common phenomenon. Over 5,000 wildfires occur in Florida each year, burning roughly 200,000 acres. That’s about 0.5% of the state’s land mass.

This is tied to Florida’s annual precipitation cycle. Florida does have a dry season, and it stretches from Winter into Spring. During this period, lack of rain and lower humidity can turn even marsh vegetation into fuel for any source of ignition, being it lightning or a carelessly-tossed cigarette butt.

As for human interference, lightning contributes to a large percentage of wildfires, but a majority of fires are of human origin. However, while humans have likely increased the frequency of fires, infrastructure has greatly minimized their spread. According to research on “presettlement fire frequency”…

Many fire compartments, especially in Florida and the midwestern prairies, once contained more than 1,000 square kilometers without a natural firebreak. Before the fire landscape was partitioned by roads, ditches, and farms, some of these regions experienced nearly annual fire.

Sources: http://www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Florida-Forest-Service/Wildland-Fire/Current-Fire-Conditions, https://web.archive.org/web/20060314065452/http://www.fl-dof.com/wildfire/stats_fires_since1981.html, https://climatecenter.fsu.edu/products-services/data/statewide-averages/precipitation, https://is.muni.cz/el/1423/jaro2006/ENS220/um/PresettlementFire.pdf

 

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