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4-14-17

Fire Aftermath: 482 acres burned in San Pedro Bay



By Marianne Graves



From the sky, Florida Forest Service pilot Charles Pitts saw flames shoot up about 100 feet on April 2 as an afternoon wildfire burned 482 acres in southern Madison County, primarily in San Pedro Bay. Several homes and other structures were at risk during the three-day ordeal to contain the fire. The cause of the fire is currently under investigation, according to Eric Black, manager of the Florida Forest Service Perry District Office, which oversees Madison, Taylor, Lafayette and Dixie Counties. Lightning has been ruled out as a cause of this fire. Homeowner Janice Colvin said the fire was about a half-mile behind their house, which also has the family’s historic farmhouse on the Madison property. Her husband, Bobby Colvin, retired from the Florida Forest Service after 35 years as a firefighter. He also worked part-time for the U.S. Forest Service putting out fires across the country.


San Pedro - Plane flown by Charles Pitts - Photo: Submitted


“I was very impressed with the way the firefighters took interest,” said Bobby Colvin. “We got back from church and we had several fire trucks at the edge of our yard.” Perry Fire Department, New Home, Sirmans and Madison Fire Rescue were on standby in case of an emergency.



By April 3, high winds gusting at 20-to-30 miles per hour were another major concern as local firefighters from the Florida Forest Service used bulldozers as their primary tool to put a line around the fire. As the intense fire surged, widening a road to “make it lay down” was the goal. “When you have a wildfire like that, it’s creating its own energies and weather,” said Black.


San Pedro Bay fire by FFS Pilot Charles Pitts. -Photo: Submitted


Florida Forest Service pilot Charles Pitts took dramatic photos of the April 2 wildfire in San Pedro Bay. -Photo: Marianne Graves


After a continuing downpour Monday, two rain gauges placed at San Pedro Bay by the Florida Forest Service overflowed at more than 5 ½ inches of rain. The total rain estimates are that 8 to 9 inches fell to aid in quelling the flames. “I was worried about it,” said Charles Pitts, who has worked at the Perry District Office as a pilot since 2000. An old regional jet converted into an air tanker by the U.S. Forest Service, now based in Lake City, was also used to make three drops of several thousand gallons of retardant on the fire near Madison Mainline. “I’ve flown in some ugly weather,” explained Pitts, who stays up in his plane until dark if there’s a fire. “The worst times were started by lightning in the summer. I fly around thunderstorms and it can be windy and turbulent.”



His dramatic photos and video from his plane of the raging San Pedro Bay area fire sparked interest across Facebook, Twitter and other media. Pitts later manned his plane after the San Pedro Bay fire and reported that the area looked like a lake. “There’s still standing water out there now from the rain,” he said. Fire season is normally January to June when there are more frequent fires. The Florida Forest Service has 15 field units each with its own pilot, divided into four regions employing 1179 employees, one of the largest state agencies. They are also largest disaster response agency in the state. “We don’t just respond to forest fires, we work right next to fire departments during hurricanes such as Hurricane Hermine, cutting trees down, bulldozing, controlling traffic and stopping people from entering hazardous areas,” said Eric Black of the Perry District Office.



For homeowners who want help to protect their homes in advance from fires, see firewise.org and get more information from the Florida Forest Service Perry District Office on Twitter and their website. As for anyone burning illegally who sees a plane flying by their home with the word Forestry under the wing, pilot Charles Pitts says to prepare for a visit from the law. Human-caused fires are still a problem, but with everyone working together, fires can be prevented.