SOUTHPORT, Fla. (WMBB) — Last spring, wildfires engulfed thousands of acres and claimed several homes in Bay County alone.
The National Weather Service said despite recent rainfall, Bay County is still in a severe drought.
There’s also leftover ground debris from Hurricane Michael.
Officials said they are worried but prepared for the upcoming spring fire season.
“All that hurricane materials on the ground, it’s not just on the ground, it’s up like this, it’s like matchsticks,” Manager of Chipola Forestry Center Mike Mathis said.
In September, the state allocated $2 million to be used specifically towards wildfire prevention in Bay and Calhoun County.
Mathis said a portion of this money was used to purchase a Raptor 500.
“The large amount of fuels that we have on the ground, this machine’s capability is to come in and mow and mulch up any of these dead and downed trees,” Florida Forest Service Mitigation Specialist Aleese Maple said.
Mathis said the Forest Service focuses on clearing areas near homes and schools.
“We have plans to make it a 50-foot wide most material around residential areas to allow for defensible space it’s not preventing a wildfire,” Mathis said.
In addition to the raptor, the Forest Service also sets controlled burns.
Crews ignite the fire by dropping balls filled with chemicals from a helicopter.
“When it comes off the helicopter, off the machine, and with like a glycol mix and then eventually starts the chemical reaction when it hits the ground and then that starts the fire,” Mathis said.
The Forest Service said most wildfires are the result of human activity.
Even with all their preventative measures, Mathis said they need residents to be safe in order to keep wildfires from starting.