Florida Forest Service shares importance of prescribed fires

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POINT WASHINGTON, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - The Florida Forest Service (FFS) carried out a 10 acre prescribed burn Tuesday inside Point Washington State Forest, which is a pretty routine practice.

Before getting started, Foresters look at the weather carefully and they check conditions often during the blaze. Communication is a top priority.

Techniques they use include making a fire that goes against the wind, laying down strips, flanking (allowing the fire to pull outward with less intensity), and spot firing.

"We go into these smaller pines and do what's called spot firing," Wayne Rushing, the Senior Forest Ranger at Point Washington State Forest, said. "They'll go up through a gridlock pattern. [You have] little dabs of fire. They gradually grow and they burn into each other so they have no way to run."

The fire moves fairly slowly with the wind and under the rangers' control.

Prescribed burning is beneficial for the environment. The wildlife habitat goes up 50 percent after a burn.

"After a burn comes through and the native species start to regenerate, they're packed full of nutrients," Daniel Young, a State Lands Forester with the FFS, said. "The new plants take that up real quick. Deer, and other forms of wildlife, really like that regrowth. Shortly after a burn comes through you might notice animals coming back into that burn really quick."

It also reduces the intensity of a future fire. "Prescribed burning also reduces hazardous fuels that makes wildfire potential less risky. They won't get as intense," Young explained.

Additionally, Foresters use prescribed burns to get rid of Palmetto, improve the health of the ecosystem, and encourage some native grass growth, such as Wiregrass.

"Wiregrass is resilient and this is one of the indicator species that our native environment is coming back," Mike Mathis, from Forestry Operations, said.

"It also improves access. It opens the woods up for different activities: [such as] wildlife viewing, hiking and hunting," Young said.

"It doesn't look very pretty throughout there, but [give it] another couple weeks and you'll have new growth," Hannah Anderson, a Wildfire Mitigation Specialist with the FFS, said.

Foresters have a four year burn rotation in the park. In other words, out of the 15,000 acres at Point Washington, they get the entire burnable acreage done in four years. On average, they char about 3,500 acres in on year alone.

The FFS works with communities to explain the importance of prescribed burning. NatureWalk at Seagrove in South Walton has homes up against the forest. They encourage residents in similar neighborhoods to be extra vigilant of fire conditions and to fireproof their home.

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