Rain brings some relief to dry conditions

A burn ban was issued May 31 in Orange County following weeks of no precipitation.

Florida Forest Service enlisted its helicopters to help extinguish the May 30 fire in Lake County.
Florida Forest Service enlisted its helicopters to help extinguish the May 30 fire in Lake County.
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Air-conditioners have been working extra hard to keep homes cool. Vehicle temperatures have measured above 100 degrees. Monday’s high was 97 degrees. Rains came earlier this week, and Tuesday’s high was 83 with a 90% rain chance.

This has given residents a slight break in the heat wave this week and given thirsty lawns some wet relief.

According to the National Weather Service, as of press time Tuesday, rain was expected every day this week.

AccuWeather expert meteorologists are monitoring the threat of a slow-moving tropical rainstorm developing over the Gulf of Mexico this week, too, bringing more than a foot of rain to parts of Florida.

The recent lack of rain boosted higher temperatures and drought conditions, and Orange County issued a burn ban to minimize wildfires.

“Central and South Florida are currently experiencing moderate to severe drought conditions,” said Alex DaSilva, AccuWeather lead hurricane forecaster. “There are portions of Central and South Florida (that) have only received 50 to 70% of the rainfall they should, year to date. This lack of rainfall has led to expansion of drought conditions this spring.”

With the severe drought conditions comes an increased chance of wildfires.

After several Central Florida wildfires in the last month, Orange County put into effect a burn ban May 31, which means all outdoor burning is prohibited unless specifically permitted for unincorporated areas of Orange County and all municipalities served by Orange County Fire Rescue, including Oakland.

This includes open fires of any type, including campfires, bonfires or yard and trash burning. Excluded are grill and pit cooking, as well as permitted firework displays.

State-mandated penalties for open burning violations start at $1,000 and generally are applied to repeat violators.


When the local drought index meets or exceeds 500, Orange County automatically institutes a burn ban.

There are penalties for violating the county’s open burning rules if a burn pit doesn’t meet the county’s ordinance requirements. The rules are in place year-round, not just during a burn ban. A fire pit for recreational purposes is allowed if it meets the ordinance requirements.

Orange County announced the implementation of the burn ban through local news media, social media and the county website. When the burn ban is lifted — after the drought index falls below 500 for seven consecutive days — the county will make the announcement through the same outlets.

Updates will be provided at ocfl.net/burnban.

Burn bans strictly are issued when drought index values soar.

“We do not typically issue burn bans during a certain time period,” said Victoria Padovan, communications assistant for Orange County Fire Rescue. “For example, last year, there was a burn ban from March 28, 2023, through April 27, 2023 — thus ending a full month before this one started — and there was not one the previous year.”


Escaped debris burning is one of the leading causes of wildfires in Florida, according to the Lake County Government website.

Withlacoochee Forestry Center is the field headquarters for the Florida Forest Service.

Lela Braunsch, wildfire mitigation specialist for FFS, said her department has been busy putting out both large and small wildfires. Several fires were extinguished May 30.

Crews worked a wildfire that started the night before off Johns Lake and Laguna roads in Lake County. Helicopters with Bambi Buckets carrying water were enlisted, as well as four bulldozers, three brush trucks and two airplanes, Braunsch said.

To stop the fire and protect several homes in the area that were being threatened, FFS performed a backburn, in which a fire is deliberately set opposite the original fire so it burns toward each other, meets in the middle and puts itself out. About 165 acres burned.

Also on May 30, FFS was fighting a half-acre wildfire off Carvaggio Loop, southwest of Lake Apopka near Florida’s Turnpike, in Lake County.

The day before, a three-acre fire was reported on Montevista Road on the west side of Clermont.

Two days later, on June 1, a brush fire ignited between West Oaks Mall and Clarke Road in Ocoee.

A wildfire was reported near West Oaks Mall in Ocoee June 1.

Then, on June 3, FFS and Lake County Fire Rescue responded to a one-acre wildfire off State Road 33, in Groveland.

“It’s so dry, and we’re all praying for rain, and I feel like once we get some rain, it will slow it down a little bit,” Braunsch said Monday.


Orange County Fire Rescue reminds citizens to take the following actions to protect their families and homes from fire danger:

• Create at least 30 feet of “defensible” — meaning clean and green — space around your home.

• Clear trash and dead vegetation from your front and backyards.

• Remove leaves and debris from roof and gutters.

• Have a plan and an emergency kit packed in case an evacuation is ordered, especially if your home directly abuts wildlands.

• Monitor local media for updates on road closures, smoke conditions and other hazards.

• Use extreme caution when grilling, camping and discarding cigarettes.

• Call 911 if you see fire in your area.

• Download the OCFL Alert app and sign up for OC Alert to stay abreast of rapidly changing conditions and warnings for the area.

• Contact Orange County Fire Rescue by email, [email protected], or by phone, (407) 836-9000.


Orange County uses the Keetch-Byram Drought Index for measuring drought. It is a continuous reference scale for estimating the dryness of the soil and duff layers.

According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the index increases for each day without rain (the amount of increase depends on the daily high temperature) and decreases when it rains. The scale ranges from 0 (no moisture deficit) to 800. The range of the index is determined by assuming there is eight inches of moisture in a saturated soil that is readily available to the vegetation.

For different soil types, the depth of soil required to hold eight inches of moisture varies (30 inches of loam is required, 25 inches of clay is required, and 80 inches of sand is required). A prolonged drought (high KBDI) influences fire intensity largely because more fuel is available for combustion. In addition, the drying of organic material in the soil can lead to increased difficulty in fire suppression.

High values of the KBDI are an indication that conditions are favorable for the occurrence and spread of wildfires, but drought is not by itself a prerequisite for wildfires. Other weather factors, such as wind, temperature, relative humidity and atmospheric stability, play a major role in determining the actual fire danger.

The moisture content of the upper soil and the duff layers is an important variable in evaluating the potential danger of wildfires. To calculate the KBDI, 24-hour rainfall totals and the maximum temperature need to be measured on a daily basis.

The Florida Forest Service combines traditional rainfall observations with data derived from the National Weather Service's WSR88D (NEXRAD) radar network to provide a detailed view of rainfall across the state for use in the KBDI. The radar data is provided to the Florida Forest Service by the National Weather Service in the form of a composite rainfall estimate that combines precipitation information from all of the NEXRAD radars and is adjusted by rain gauge data to improve quality.



Amy Quesinberry

Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.

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