Before storm, Hillborough's 'Controlled Burn' unit worked to prevent wildfires

Lightning and high winds could create a danger
Posted at 10:03 PM, Jan 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-24 22:03:15-05
The storm that swept through our area this past weekend had local "controlled burn" units very busy.
The team in Hillsborough County works year round but made extra precautions in advance of the storm because of the threat of lightning and powerful winds capable of starting a forest fire.
"When there's a front like we just had come through it actually provides more predictable weather," explains Andy Fairbanks, the county's Environmental Outreach Coordinator. "That might sound counter intuitive, but as a front comes through, we had all this crazy weather last night and over the weekend, that really benefits us as we're planning a fire and executing a fire; knowing the wind is going to be consistently in one direction."
The state's forestry division used a tractor plow to create a "fire line" around certain properties, and then went to work burning the underbrush in certain directions. 
It's a relatively cheap technique that relies on scientific measurements of air dispersion rates and wind direction to create small fires.
"We're trying to prevent wildfires and provide the natural fire that keeps the forest healthy," says Fairbanks.
Hillsborough County burns through about 80-thousand acres a year to relieve underbrush and get rid of non-native plants.
"If we don't have regular fires based on a natural interval that consumes that fuel (plant material) it can build up real dense pockets of fuel and that's where it's a risk of wild fire," adds Fairbanks.
Because lightning and dry seasons are natural to Florida, the environment has adapted to benefit from the frequent fires, often helping species with regeneration and growth.