What is Prescribed Fire?
Prescribed fire is the application of fire under selected weather and fuel conditions to achieve specific goals. These goals include fuel reduction, maintenance of biodiversity, forest disease control, and the enhancement of habitat for threatened and endangered species.
These fires must be performed with the safety of both the prescribed burner and the public in mind. In 1990, the Florida Legislature passed the Prescribed Fire Act, which supports the importance of prescribed fire in Florida and sets guidelines for training and certifying prescribed fire practitioners.
In 1999, the Brevard County Board of County Commissioners passed a resolution recognizing the importance of prescribed fire to accomplish varied land management goals within the County.
Fire In Florida
Florida's unique ecosystems have been molded and shaped by the influence of fire. As a result of this dynamic process, many plants and animals in Florida not only tolerate fire, but often depend upon fire's rejuvenative properties.
Lightning has been the source for natural fire for millions of years in Florida, while native Indians, ranchers and cattlemen have been utilizing fire for various uses for the past 12,000 years. Both sources of fire are a constant presence in Florida, resulting in the often random occurrence and intensity of wildfires.
Before roads and houses fragmented natural areas, fires often spread uninterrupted over vast areas in Florida, burning for many weeks. Today, the potential for massive wildfires is very real. In 1998, the wildfires in Florida burned 34,000 acres in Brevard County alone. In Florida, the question is not if, but when fires will occur.
Why Apply Fire to Environmentally Endangered Lands Program Sanctuaries?
Fire is one of the tools that EEL Land Managers use to maintain the rich variety of plants and animals. It plays an important part in shaping the natural areas along the coast. This fire in the Coconut Point Sanctuary in Melbourne Beach provides much needed habitat for Florida Scrub-Jays-a threatened species that is rapidly dwindling along Florida's barrier islands.
The Pine Flatwoods ecosystem has adapted to frequent fires. Micco Scrub Sanctuary in South Brevard illustrates how frequent fires help sustain gopher tortoises, wiregrass, and saw palmetto which in turn support many native insect and animal species.
Prescribed fire is utilized to maintain xeric oak scrub in a low open shrub structure such as this zone at the Enchanted Forest in Titusville. Without fire, this type of habitat will slowly change into a dense, canopied forest.
Prescribed Fire at Flutie
Along with exotic plant removal, prescribed fire helps preserve the Coastal Strand ecosystem-home to Florida Scrub-Jays, indigo snakes and other Florida natives. Prescribed fire was performed next to Flutie Athletic Complex in Melbourne Beach in conjunction with a Brazilian pepper removal project.
A prescribed fire where a park or preserve is surrounded by houses, roads and other major developments is referred to as an "urban interface" prescribed fire. The fire pictured here at Erna Nixon Park in Melbourne is an example. The success of these fires is directly related to the public support of the Park's residential and commercial neighbors. Both the residents that surround the park, and plants and animals living within the area benefit by preserving the natural process of fire within these protected natural areas.
Prescribed fire can help reduce the intensity of wildfires. Fires such as the 1998 firestorm in Brevard County are generally a result of fire suppression combined with heavy fuel buildup.
Other Sources of Prescribed Fire Information
- Archbold Biological Station
- Florida Department of Environmental Protection
- Florida Division of Forestry
- St. Johns River Water Management District
- Tall Timbers Research Station
- The Nature Conservancy
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service U.S.
- U.S. Forest Service