North Florida Congresswoman Gwen Graham held a workday with the US Forest Service Thursday. Graham aided technicians from agencies across the Panhandle in managing prescribed burns.
Dozens of technicians in trucks, tractors, even a helicopter came together to manage the prescribed burn in Apalachicola National Forest. Each person is trained in the specific, controlled use of fire. Fire Manager Steve Parrish says this kind of burning keeps forests healthier and safer.
“The West tends to draw most of the attention with the wildfires when they’re burning hundreds of structures down, we have that potential here in Florida and this is our best defense for that, is the application of prescribed fire,” he said.
Smoke billowed over the pine forest as palmetto and wiregrass burned below. It can be an alarming sight. But by decreasing the amount of vegetation, there is simply less fuel for a wildfire to burn. The fires also rejuvenate the ecosystem, and The Nature Conservancy’s David Printiss says some species need it to live.
“The wiregrass here, this species of grass, that’s a native species and it’s an indication that the site is doing really good. The fire will stimulate it to flower and fruit so there’ll be seeds,” he said.
Technicians made their way through the pines, dressed in flame retardant suits, work boots and hard hats. Congresswoman Gwen Graham was right there among them, clearing brush and lighting fires.
“This is just such an important part of North Florida’s environment and these prescribed burns allow our environment to stay healthier. And I really appreciate all that everyone is doing as you’ve been here and seen its hard work. And just a little bit hot,” she said.
Graham helped technicians manage fires across 1500 acres Thursday. If all goes well, new palmettos will be sprouting at the burn site in two weeks.