AVON PARK — Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Hundreds of acres were burned in two separate planned burns at the Avon Park Air Force Range on Thursday and another fire in Polk County produced massive amounts of smoke that drifted throughout Highlands County, causing concern for residents.
Concerns were laid to rest by Florida Forest Service Mitigation Specialist Melissa Yunas.
“There are three larger burns to the north of Highlands County and Polk County,” she said Thursday. “Two of them are on the Avon Park Bombing Range property and they are, approximately, between the two of them, about 500 acres. The third one is on private property and is about 55 acres.”
On Friday, Yunas said the fires were all approved and planned. The smoke was a result of the way the winds were taking it. She this is called drift smoke. As of Friday, the private property fire had grown to 65 acres, according to Yunas.
Yunas warned Thursday the smoke from the prescribed burns might be worse in that afternoon because the burns started right after the hottest part of the day. She said it should be clearer through the night, although some comments on the Highlands News-Sun social media site indicated that some areas, like Lake Placid, were “suffocating.”
Ranger of Operations Charles MacLaughlin said the prescribed fires at the Air Force Range are important to the natural resource management to meet federal conservation requirements. McLaughlin said there are some 13 endangered animal species and even more plant species on the range.
Yunas said the prescribed burns are imperative for healthy ecosystems.
“A prescribed fire can keep a fire from recurring for up to five years, depending on the type of vegetation,” she said.
Active fires can be seen by visiting floridaforestservice.com. Go to “current wildfire conditions” and select interactive maps.