Jonathan Dickinson State Park prescribed burn today designed to discourage Treasure Coast wildfires

A significant amount of smoke could fill the Treasure Coast skies for a second time in three days Friday.

The source of the smoke shouldn't give residents much concern, though, since it's a prescribed burn scheduled for 500 acres at the Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Hobe Sound.

It's also a fire meant to help Treasure Coast residents avoid the threat of severe uncontrolled brush fires such as one that shut down traffic Wednesday on Interstate 95 in St. Lucie and Indian River counties.

The Treasure Coast and the rest of Florida is in the middle of an annual six-month stretch of increased threats of wildfires because of the dry season, said Melissa Yunas, wildfire mitigation specialist for Florida Forest Service.

That's compared to the wet season in the latter half of the year, which coincides with the hurricane season and rainier conditions, she said.

"You just need to be careful about what you're doing" when outdoors, said Indian River County Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Brian Burkeen. "No open campfires."

The state enters a period of increasing dryness at the beginning of the year. Those conditions stay steady through the spring, then the dry season peaks in May and June, forest officials said.

"This dry season had started out wetter than normal," Yunas said. "We were wondering if this would be a typical season."

Then came a couple of cold snaps during the last several weeks, which accelerated the area's dry spell, Yunas said.

"You're starting to see the grass go to brown," she said. "The cold weather dries out the vegetation when you combine it with high winds."

That's why homeowners near lots of trees should make sure their homes are less threatened by fires by making sure their property is clear of loose leaves or debris, Yunas said. Everyone should make sure they don't do something inadvertently to cause a brush fire, Yunas said.

"It could be something as simple as a spark from an ATV driving over dry grass," she said.

No cause has been determined for Wednesday's 60-acre brush fire off mile marker 142, which forced officials to reroute traffic at State Road 60 in Indian River and Orange Avenue in St. Lucie for about six hours. Firefighters and forest employees returned a couple of times to the 8600 block of Oslo Road for some flare-ups Thursday.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is conducting Friday's prescribed burn of the pine flatwoods at Dickinson near Park Drive and the railroad tracks. Forest officials could deny park officials permission to burn Friday if they determine conditions are too humid or the ground is too dry, plus other factors.

The benefit of prescribed burns is they can reduce undergrowth that accumulates over time and decrease the potential for wildfire.

No count was taken for how many cars were detoured from I-95 Wednesday afternoon. Traffic monitoring performed in 2008 showed the average volume between 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. had 1,300 vehicles traveling northbound between Orange Avenue and Indrio Road and 900 cars going south, said Kathleen Dempsey, spokeswoman for the Corradino Group, which is overseeing the I-95 widening project between Okeechobee Road and S.R. 60.

Forest service helicopters dropped 27,000 gallons of water on the 60-acre burn area to help firefighters contain the blaze Wednesday.

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