Everglades National Park, at the southern tip of Florida, has been using prescribed fire since 1958 to reintroduce and maintain fire as a part of an ecosystem that has been altered by humans. They have been doing it so long that they apparently feel comfortable having park visitors bicycle or take a tram along a road that is used as a fireline on an active prescribed fire.
In 2014 Everglades prescribed burned about five times as many acres as were blackened in wildfires — 23,162 compared to 4,641 acres. Only about four percent of the acres burned in unplanned fires last year were on fires that were completely suppressed. The rest were managed, or not entirely put out and allowed to accomplish resource management objectives.Like other units in the National Park System, Everglades is experiencing a “workforce realignment”. That’s National Park Service-speak for a major budget reduction. They are still figuring out the details, but it appears that the fire management staff will be “realigned” from about 35 to around 25 employees. Right now they have two staffed engines, fuels personnel, a fire ecologist, a helitack crew, and two fire effects monitors. Jack Weer, the assistant Fire Management Officer, said most of their wildfires occur in the months of January through May, but said they can have fires any month of the year. The park’s two engines, a Type 3 and a Type 6, hold 500 and 313 gallons, respectively. The also have two all terrain vehicles and four utility terrain vehicles. The Type 6 engine is on a Ford 550 chassis.
The park also has a very active aviation program, using helicopters extensively, occasionally several in one day. For decades they have used an exclusive use contracted helicopter plus call when needed aircraft, but in April, 2014 acquired their own ship, a Bell Long Ranger. For now they are using pilots under contract, but are considering, AFMO Weer said, hiring their own pilot. We have more information at FireAviation.com regarding the helicopter program.
In 2012 we told you about an excellent film that the park commissioned, titled The River of Fire. It was produced, directed, and edited by Jennifer Brown who at the time was an NPS Interpretation Division employee whose term appointment was about to end. Ms. Brown, now with Into Nature Films, has produced another great film about a 28,000-acre prescribed fire the park conducted in December, 2014. Check it out below: