Western states are looking to Florida for wildfire prevention

Wildfire — Courtesy: Image by My Photo Buddy from Shutterstock

Eight of California’s biggest wildfires have occurred in the last year. Now, reports are showing that those battling fires are looking to Florida for new solutions in wildfire prevention.

Back in May, flames began to spread quickly through a pine forest located in the Sunshine State, consuming a thick carpet of underbrush and leaves. This burn was the perfect definition of a “good fire,” ignited on purpose in order to clear vegetation that could fuel infernos in the future.

Florida currently leads the country in controlled burns to help prevent wildfires by removing any vegetation that could fuel a fire.

Although Florida is known to be wet and flat, University of North Florida Assistant Director of Physical Facilities Landscaping and Grounds  Will Smith states that fire is nothing to take lightly.

“We have a major transportation corridor to our west,” Smith stated. “We have a major transportation corridor to our south, we have a campus, we have residential, so we have to have perfect conditions to do prescribed burns out here because of the smoke.”

It has been reported that from 1998 to 2018, seventy percent of controlled burns in the country were in the Southeast. Western states are looking to Florida to acquire new programs and policies to support them, along with encouraging the culture around them.

Wildfires out West are becoming more of a problem as the fire season is lasting longer.

“We’ve taken a really proactive approach in getting that done because of what’s happening,” Smith said about wildfire prevention.

He stated that the university has not done a controlled burn for a couple of years and has switched to “firewise mowing.”

“Four months ago all these palmettos were mowed to the ground,” said Smith, pointing to some palmettos already about 2 feet tall. “We target high fuel areas so should a fire start, lightning, something like that, these areas will not get too hot.”

Unlike burning, mowing does not return the nutrients to the ground. 

“We want to make sure it’s safe for everyone to come out and enjoy nature,” Smith said.

The goal is to fuel the culture of controlled burns instead of fueling wildfire. 

Western states have a long way ahead of them

So far this year, Florida has done prescribed burns on more than 1.6 million acres. California has only burned approximately 35,000 acres. However, the state is 2.5 times larger than Florida.

California recently signed an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service to reduce the amount of vegetation on 1 million acres of public lands. Unfortunately, the goal is still out of reach. Experts project that tens of millions of acres need full addressing statewide, but because of lack of personnel, funding, and political will, work has been limited on public lands. 

With help from Florida, California can go from No.49 in the country to No. 1.

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