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Exclusive: Rare nighttime prescribed burn shows dangers ahead for Floridians and dangerous wildfires

Irma, winter weather, creating huge amount of fuel
Posted: 11:09 PM, Feb 02, 2018
Updated: 2018-02-03 04:09:25Z

SUMTER COUNTY, Fla. — The Florida Forest service firefighters try to burn at least 50,000 acres during prescribed burns each year. On Jan. 1 they were at 50 percent and the race is on to burn 25,000 more before storms and lightning begin igniting the state.

Florida Forestry officials burned more than 10,000 acres in the Richloam Wildlife Management Area. Crews try to burn it every three years. The sections they burned hadn’t been touched in nearly four years. That one year makes a big difference in the amount of brush and fuel on the ground.  

Last summer the Leadplace fire burned thousands of acres of timber.

With perfect weather conditions Foresters and wildland firefighters set out to protect another thousand acres they were able to save.

Strategically, as the sun set crews used drip torches to burn underbrush and debris making sure the fire stayed low protecting the pine trees towering above.

“By us doing this now, we are saving the trees for later on in the summer when it’s dry,” Senior Ranger Jared Dorrier out of Southwest Pasco County said. “If we do have a wildfire it will not cause damage to this area plus we can stop a wildlife if a fire burns into this area.”

There is a good reason crews are working hard to meet their goals for prescribed burns. With the debris left behind from Hurricane Irma and a cold winter there is ample fuel to burn.

“We are kind of getting a double edge sword with that,” Dorrier said. “By all predictions, what we are aiming at, it is going to be a bad year. This year we are actually a little bit dryer than we were last year by this point. Unless, we get more rain it could be pretty bad this summer.”

There is a lot of science and planning that goes into a controlled burn. If just one requirement is off, let’s say too windy, too low of a relative humidity or any number of factors the burn will be called off.  With a cool front coming through and ideal winds the night burn was a go.

Dorrier said prescribed burns are just as dangerous as a wildfire. The only difference is that they are in control of how, when, and where this fire burns.

“We do it or the fire is going to do it, and cause a lot more damage when it does,” Dorrier said.