Fla. seeks $35 million to fight wildfires

December 26, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Faced with more long-range drought conditions in Florida, state officials are seeking $35 million for an aggressive controlled-burning program to prevent a repetition of last summer's fires, which destroyed more than 500,000 acres.

The state Agriculture Department, criticized by agriculture groups and timber landowners for not being aggressive enough in using controlled burning before last summer's fires, said it planned to burn considerably more than the 2 million acres of public and private land that were burned in 1998.

State Agriculture Secretary Robert Crawford said the fires "demonstrated that we must do more."

"We'll never be able to eliminate wildfires, but we can minimize their impact," said Crawford, who has asked the state legislature for the money for more people and equipment to fight fires.

He has proposed mandatory controlled burning in buffer zones around towns and subdivisions, aided by state firefighting crews, and is considering expanding the time to prohibit burning from one hour before sunset to one hour after sunset.

A public meeting is scheduled for Jan. 20 in Gainesville.

Crawford's actions follow a recent report by the governor's Wildfire Response and Mitigation Review Committee, which said the state must strengthen its authority to do more controlled burning despite protests from some property owners who object to smoke hanging over their neighborhoods.

Some cattlemen and farmers criticized Crawford last summer, saying that the fires could have been prevented with more controlled burning.

The number of fires last summer, 2,300, caused an estimated $400 million in losses to timber and destroyed 300 homes.

Pub Date: 12/26/98

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