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Dry, windy conditions lead to first red flag warning of season in Polk, other inland areas of Tampa Bay

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POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – While many people enjoy the warm sun and a nice breeze, fire officials know the combination just means one thing.

“A red flag warning is basically high winds, low humidity and lack of precipitation,” said Todd Chlanda, wildfire mitigation specialist for the Florida Forest Service in Lakeland. “It all comes together to make for bad fire conditions.”

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for Polk, Hardee and Highlands counties on Wednesday, as well as the inland areas of Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties.

“Any fires that develop will likely spread rapidly. Outdoor burning is not recommended,” read the alert from NWS.

“With the red flag conditions, Florida Forest Service in the Lakeland district is not issuing any burn authorizations so we’re not allowing anybody to burn,” said Chlanda.

The burn ban was lifted just before 6 p.m. Wednesday.

There was no burn ban in effect in Polk County.

So far this year, the Florida Forest Service has worked wildfires that range from 10 to 1,500 acres, which are not considered large fires for the area, according to Chlanda.

While brush fires threaten the rural areas, in Lakeland, the dry season causes other kinds of problems.

“Mulch fires, especially in apartment buildings where we have a large amount of people in a small area. Generally it’s attributed to people discarding cigarettes,” said David Sutherland, fire inspector for Lakeland Fire Department.

“Chains dragging from trailers can spark and cause wildfires alongside the road. Parking on tall grasses can cause wildfires,” Chlanda added.

The Winter Haven Fire Department was training four new firefighters Wednesday, so they are ready for this and every dry season.

“It’s looking very good. Our numbers are going to get back up real soon,” said Winter Haven Fire Chief Sonny Emery.

Chief Emery said the city will pick up debris so residents do not have to get rid of it themselves.

“Definitely do not burn your hard debris right now, it might even cost you your home,” said the chief.

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