VENICE — Just four days after Sarasota County Fire Chief Michael Regnier issued a recreational burning ban, a wildfire torched more than 550 acres in the Carlton Reserve.
The fire was 95% contained Tuesday, with crews on site to ensure it didn’t flare up again.
In spots, it did. By Tuesday afternoon, some smoke was rising, but officials believe it could have been much worse had they not already had a prescribed fire in the same area three years ago.
While it is under investigation, it’s believed it started Sunday either by lightning strike or hot embers from another wildfire in the region that had started by lightning strike.
Authorities were keeping an eye on it Sunday and Monday and were in the area when it “broke free” on Monday, Sarasota County Fire Mitigation Jay Bailey said.
“It’s a good thing we were here when it did,” he said.
Firefighters completed the prescribed fire in the Carlton Reserve about three years ago. Because of that, much of the vegetation that the fire would have used as fuel was either gone or small, he said.
That meant while the blaze blackened acres, the fire wasn’t nearly as dangerous as it could have been.
Sarasota County Public Information Officer Sara Nealeigh said crews, including personnel from Venice Fire Rescue, the Nokomis Fire Department, Myakka State Park and Florida Forest Service, worked against the fire by conducting a burnout including previously burned areas.
“We managed it more than we fought it,” Bailey said, noting there were still areas that were flaring up.
Firefighters involved were talking about the last major fire — the North Port Raintree fire in 2017 that burned thousands of acres near the North Port-Port Charlotte border.
“This was nowhere near as bad as Raintree was,” Florida Forest Service Wildfire Mitigation Specialist Patrick Mahoney said.
Fire teams have been worried about the lack of rain — more than 20 days without any — and red flag for fires.
“We had the right conditions. We were really concerned with anything sparking or creating heat; people parking on grass, stuff like that,” he said.
With rains predicted to be starting this week, they are pleased — but with rain comes lightning.
“We’ve been chasing fires all weekend, from Hardee to DeSoto to over here, we’ve been chasing fires because of lightning,” Mahoney said.
A “good soaking rain” will help conditions — if it comes, he said. But if it’s small batches of storms that spark fires but keeps areas more dry than wet, they could be chasing fires for a while longer, he said.
There was no reported damage to any structures, according to Nealeigh.
Mahoney asked residents to be cautious with anything that produces sparks or heat, and to not park hot vehicles over dry grasses.
“And now is a great time to get your roofs and gutters cleaned off,” he said.