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'THE WAR ON FIRE': Firefighters explain why we need controlled burns

Posted at 6:53 PM, Apr 24, 2024

BIG CYPRESS NATIONAL PRESERVE, Fla. — While some people might think of fire as a bad thing, control burns like the one behind me are actually bringing life. Fox 4 Meteorologist Andrew Shipley spent the day with firefighters at the Big Cypress National Perverse to learn how control burns are restoring the ecosystem.

Fire season is starting to ramp up. It's a little later than normal, however, because of exceptionally wet weather from El Nino this winter.

"It was a little bit wetter than we have typically seen, and that extended our burn season,” said Riki Hoopes, a fire communication specialist with South Florida Fire and Aviation. “This is the last major burn of the season"

While brush fires can be very scary, prescribed burns like this 13-thousand-acre burn are far from it.

"When we do fire under controlled conditions, we get to pick the winds, we get pick where the smoke is going, we get to pick how many resources we have,” said Hoopes. “So, the more controlled we can be the better outcomes we will see for the future.

And those better outcomes include restoring and returning nutrients back into the ecosystem.

"Fire wants to be here. Fire has always been here,” said Hoopes. “Only since we have moved into these communities that we have had a harder time seeing fire. The wildfires don't move through naturally. So what we are doing is using prescribed fire to simulate the natural fire we used to see."

"When you put fire on this ground, you see that energy just explodes out of the Earth with this regrowth,” said Michael Gue, a prescribed fire specialist with Big Cypress National Preserve. It doesn't take long. You are going to come out here in two weeks and you're going to see these new fresh, green spouts coming from the ashes."

And it's the removal of natural fire from the ecosystem that Gue calls the war on fire.

"For years we have looked at fire as something that needed to be squished or created this war on fire,” said Gue. “And we come to find that fire is playing its natural role here. No matter what happens in the world, fire is going to be part of these ecosystems. And it's on us to find a way to redefine our relationship with fire and find a way to live with it."

And with our changing planet, Gue says prescribed fire is only going to become that much more important by simulating natural fires and lowering the intensity of how a wildfire may burn.

"With some of the changes we are seeing in weather, we are seeing both wetter seasons as well as drier seasons,” said Gue. “Some of that comes with more extreme conditions in the landscape. So, with that combination of the changes in those conditions along with fuel loading from many years of fire suppression we do see more fire behavior."

As you know we have had several brush fires lately that put buildings in danger, burns like this one stop those in their tracks. These prescribed burns can lower the risk of wildfires to our communities.

"We saw last year we had 4 large wildfires; the biggest one grew several thousand acres in one day and then ran into a prescribed fire scar that we conducted earlier that year and put itself out, right on that flank," said Hoopes.

Understanding the importance of prescribed fire, Big Cypress is already planning burns to conduct through 2029. Their goal is to burn each area of the preserve every 4 to 5 years.