Engage

Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
2,627,048
Like Us
Twitter
802,680
Follow Us
YouTube Blog RSS Instagram Flickr

Prescribed fire destroys 30 acres at MacDill

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFPN) -- A raging fire decimated 30 acres of forest in 12 hours here Jan. 7. The good news is that was the whole idea.

Since Tampa Bay is the lightning capital of the world, the prescribed burn dramatically cut the chance of a wildfire. Lightning strikes could naturally set off a fire that would be catastrophic to the nearby campground, golf course, marina and especially the flightline.

Jeff Sprinkmann, a contractor with the 6th Civil Engineer Squadron’s environmental flight, coordinated the event.

“The purpose of the prescribed burn was two-fold,” Mr. Sprinkmann said. “First and foremost it reduced the possible dangers that a wildfire can produce. The recent wildfires in Southern California, which charred thousands of acres, are testimony to the complacent approach of suppressing, rather than embracing fire through controlled burns.

“Secondly, Florida's plants and animals evolved in concert with the natural cycles of periodic forest and grassland fires. Fire is essential in maintaining habitat and the balance between the vines and undergrowth of the forest, while also returning valuable nutrients to the soil.”

Many plants, like pine trees, only release their seeds when the high temperatures of a fire trigger them. The seeds then have a much better chance of growing and competing with the cleared undergrowth and fertilizing ashes. These favorable conditions help get pines and other important species off to a quick start.

The Florida Division of Forestry was hired to conduct the burn. These trained professionals perform prescribed burns on a routine basis when the conditions allow.

"Each year in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties there are probably 100 burns conducted totaling 3,000 acres," said Dennis Herndon, burn manager for the event. “This one was much smaller, but the setting required strict procedures and controls.”

There is general public and landowner concern with increased smoke, reduced air quality and liability forestry division officials said.

But everyone benefits from the reduction of devastating wildfire, improved wildlife habitat and forage, preservation of endangered and threatened plant and animal species, and improved management of forest resources, officials said.

In preparation for the burn the 6th CES cleared a fire break on the south line of the burn providing extra protection to the on-base campground, which is south of the burn site. Lewis Lake and Marina Bay Drive provided breaks to the north and west, and a mangrove canal provided a break to the east. Squadron firefighters and staff were onsite until 11 p.m., when only tiny smoldering piles of ash were left where there had once been abundant growth.

Ground-level vegetation was not completely wiped out, but only the most well-established plant life remained after flames wiped out most small vegetation. The after effects of the burn were not limited to ground level though. Palm trees were blackened and charred as high as 40 feet in the air. Reports from commercial aircraft in the area reported smoke from the fire as far away as 50 miles.

Minimizing the disturbance of smoke to the flightline and the residents of the campground received top priority during planning. During the winter months, rare north westerly winds that would have helped push the smoke out into the bay are common, but Mother Nature had other plans. For most of the day, the entire campground was engulfed in a thick heavy cloud of smoke.

“My sincere apologies (go) to those who were in the line of smoke," Mr. Sprinkmann said. "The wind dispersion, which was supposed to be very good with decent winds, never quite lifted the smoke vertically as much as we had hoped. With so many different variables such as temperature, humidity, fuel load, wind direction and speed, forecast, and dispersion, it is very difficult to ace a 30-acre burn. We did our best and we will learn from our mistakes.”

Mr. Sprinkmann said he would like to schedule another burn in four or five years. By that time most of the vegetation, which grows rapidly in the humid, subtropical climate of Florida, will be back just as thick.