How Prescribed Burning Maintains The Apalachicola National Forest

Nov 25, 2019

U.S. Forest Service workers drive a Utility Task Vehicle (UTV) with a blow torch adhered to the back of it.
Credit Robbie Gaffney / WFSU-FM

The U.S. Forest Service is burning grass and bushes inside the Apalachicola National Forest. Such prescribed burns control wildfire risks while also replenishing habitat for fire-dependent plants and animals. 

The new fires are small, but the resulting smoke flows onto Smith Creek Road and engulfs a sign.
Credit Robbie Gaffney / WFSU-FM

Forest Service workers are driving along the outskirts of the Apalachicola National Forest. Attached to the end of their golfcart-like utility vehicles is a blow torch that’s spits flames onto nearby underbrush.  The workers stop to remove what looks like an old utility box laying on the ground. They have to  clear the area around any sign, woodpecker nest, or power line. After digging up the surrounding brush,  the workers ignite the remaining grass. Burnt flecks fly up in the breeze and smoke fills the air along Smith Creek Road. Overseeing the workers is Aaron Edwards, the "Burn Boss".

“It was a burn that was needed,” he says, noting a company recently planted Long Leaf Pine trees in the area. "And they needed some of that understory brush burned to release those long leaf pines so they can grow up to be big trees one day.”

Edwards has been monitoring the weather for several days. The area is in moderate drought conditions, which can be a problem for prescribed burns.

Last year, the state contracted with a company for a prescribed burn that turned into a raging blaze that destroyed about three dozen homes in Eastpoint, Florida. However, Edwards says Sunday’s rain combined with a western wind made Monday perfect for a prescribed burn. He did a test earlier in the morning and says he’s confident all will go well.

Aaron Edwards Jr. is a Fire Planner with the U.S. Forest Service. He's referred to as the 'Fire Boss' and is overseeing Apalachicola National Forest's prescribed burn.
Credit Robbie Gaffney / WFSU-FM

Edwards says once the forest is cleared, fresh grass will sprout—making it easier for animals to find food.

“A lot of the animals, they depend on us to burn so they can have fresh food to forage off of -- a lot of the animals like a clean habitat. They want it open so they like for us to knock back those bushes and a lot of those woody fuels to open it up so they can see.”

Smoke is expected to cloud Smith Creek Road through Tuesday.