By Ted Scouten

FORT LAUDERDALE – (CBS4) – It’s the wildlife that keeps the Schmitz family coming back to the Everglades.

“Look, an alligator!” yells one excited child as his family prepares to get into a fishing boat for a ride into the swamp.

But this time – it’s going to be a bit harder to maneuver around out there – dry conditions have changed the landscape.

“We know it’s dry,” said Mike Schmitz as he and his wife prepare for the family outing with his children.   “We haven’t got much rain this season which is typical for this time, this season of the year.  But these last few months have been drier than normal.”

The watery paths in the Everglades show what’s going on.  While riding on an airboat with Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue, one minute the boat glided over two feet of water,  then suddenly,  the water’s gone and it’s dry.

“It’s very dry; It’s extremely dry,” said Lt. Herb Schosnig.  “If it gets any drier, the areas will start to be shut down by water management district.”

The state already closed a section of the Glades to boats and anything with a motor. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission closed the area called “Holey Land Wildlife Management Area”  to motorized vehicles, airboats, motorcycles and campfires.  That’s located on the Broward/Palm Beach County line, west of US 27.  Right now parts of South Florida are facing extreme drought – desert conditions, as shown on the U.S. Drought Monitor.

And there’s a lot of fuel around here, the saw grass is dry and could feed a fire.

“It’s very dry and it’s very flammable,” Lt. Schosnig warned.  “Being so dry, it goes up and spreads very quickly.”

Lightning could also spark a fire. Although there’s nothing to prevent an act of nature from sending down a bolt, people are being reminded about their role in reducing the chances of a fire by not tossing cigarette butts out the car window – and not parking in high weeds – they can catch fire because of a hot tail pipe.

To see what the drought index looks like near your home, click here for the Division of Forestry drought index.


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