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Prescribed Burns Could Help Cleanup Hurricane Debris

Two men in yellow jackets walk through a smokey forest.
Tall Timbers Facebook page
Two men in yellow jackets walk through a smokey forest.
Two men in yellow jackets walk through a smokey forest.
Credit Tall Timbers Facebook page
Two men in yellow jackets walk through a smokey forest.

The state is looking to prescribed fires to clean up the massive amount of timber left after Hurricane Michael. Tall Timbers’ Wildland fire scientist, Kevin Hiers , says salvaging is not going to be a viable option for most landowners in North Florida.

"Their properties are small and it’s not merchantable. The timber tends to get a fungus called blue stain that reduces it merchantability. And frankly because the winds are so devastating, a lot of the (you know) what might go as high quality soft timber or poles… it’s so fractured (that their) not particularly valuable and very difficult to pick up when they snap, break and twist off," he says.

Hiers says, right now the smoldering potential is low because of a great amount of rainfall last year.

Meanwhile, Florida Forestry Association Executive Vice President, Alan Shelby says prescribed burning can help forest ecosystems recover. It can also help reduce the potential wildfire risk following Hurricane Michael.

“The big problem there is with these trees laying on ground like pixie sticks, the Forest Service is unable to get into those vast stands of timber to plow lines around the fire if one does start and put it out. They just can’t get their equipment into it,” he says.

Florida Forest Service Assistant Director, Erin Albury, says fires in areas impacted by hurricane Michael could be hazardous for citizens as well as firefighters. The organization is working to reduce wildfire risk by teaching safe burning practices.

“We have conducted 5 or 6 what we call certified pile burner training courses in the impacted area over the last 3 or 4 months.  Just educating people on the safe ways to burn the administrative pieces of doing certified pile burning. And it also talks a lot about or teaches a lot about smoke management which is also a concern," he says. 

Prescribed burns are conducted when weather conditions allow. Albury says rainfall gives fire managers and foresters time to plan burns to reduce the wildfire risk. But too much rain makes it difficult to execute the burns because the fuels are too wet to catch fire.

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Morgan Martin
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