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#WalkingClub101: What you need to know about prescribed fires

Prescribed fire
Posted at 4:23 AM, Mar 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-08 04:23:43-05

Sarah Phinney has been showing you parks and trails across the Tampa Bay region since July through her #WalkingClub series. Now, she's getting frequently asked questions in the Walking Club Facebook group answered.

Comments about prescribed burns are coming up in the Walking Club Facebook group. That's why Sarah sat down with Chris Kiddy, Program Coordinator for Hillsborough County's Conservation Environmental Lands Management Department, to get some of your questions answered.

She's finding out that you shouldn't be disappointed the next time you visit a preserve where a burn has taken place. Instead, be excited for the new life that will soon blossom from the ashes.

What is a prescribed burn?

Kiddy says prescribed burns are a safe way to apply a natural process, ensure ecosystem health and reduce the risk of wildfire. The goal is to mimic a natural phenomenon in nature.

“Throughout history, lightning would hit in Florida and fire would spread,” said Kiddy. “This would happen quite often. Plants and animals adapted to need that. We’re trying to mimic that in a controlled manner that doesn’t affect the community too much.”

In addition to benefiting plants and animals, Kiddy says the fires also reduce fuels in the environment.

“If you don’t have a fire every so often, the dead grasses and dead trees, build-up,” he said. “That’s where you run into the case if lightning were to hit, all those dead fuels could ignite and cause a really powerful wildfire.”

Kiddy says there isn’t a specific prescribed fire season in Florida.

“For ecological purposes, we like to burn during the spring and summer. For other purposes we’ll burn during the winter and fall,” said Kiddy. “It’s all year long.”

How are prescribed burns set?

Crews use a drip torch. According to Kiddy, the amount of fuel used to ignite fires is very small and burns off instantly. He says any odor residents or visitors smell is natural (wood or plant matter) and is not from chemicals.

How can I find out if a prescribed burn is taking place?

Kiddy says it’s really difficult to determine when burns will take place because of Mother Nature.

“We have to look for the exact weather conditions that will allow us to bring that smoke up in the air and away from the community,” he said.

Burn notifications are listed here.

You can also now sign up to get an email notification that will include any information about trail closures.

What should I do if I visit a preserve where a burn is taking place?

Kiddy says not every burn will shut down trails, in fact, most times they try to leave the trails open.

“If by chance you get there and that trail is going to be closed because of a burn, we’ll have signs and notifications letting you know that there is a prescribed fire going on here today and not to use this trail,” said Kiddy.

How do prescribed fires affect wildlife?

Kiddy says that is the top concern for most people, but the burns are for good reason.

“We actually do this for the wildlife. If we did not do prescribed burns, these ecosystems and these habitats would not create the right amount of food that actually helps these species survive," he said.

Kiddy says that prescribed fires are not as intense as wildfires. Because of that, animals have the opportunity to leave the area.

“We also create exits for them to get out and get away from the fire, which obviously does not happen during a wildfire,” said Kiddy.

Where could I see prescribed burns?

There are frequent prescribed burns at:

  • Golden Aster Scrub Nature Preserve
  • Balm-Boyette Scrub Nature Preserve
  • Brooker Creek Headwaters Nature Preserve
  • Lower Green Swamp Nature Preserve
  • Blackwater Creek Nature Preserve

Plans are being developed for burns conservation parks, but Kiddy says it’s difficult because there is a lot of development surrounding certain conservation parks.

Get involved in Walking Club!

Post photos of your adventures, ask questions and learn about upcoming #WalkingClub stories in Sarah’s Walking Club group on Facebook!

You can also keep up with Sarah on Instagram and Twitter.