Prescribed fire in the Everglades

Long Pine Key Fire in Everglades National Park

The fire is burning between the Main Park Road and the Nike Missile Base.

map Long Pine Key Fire
The yellow, brown, and red dots represent heat on the Long Pine Key Fire detected by a satellite.

The Long Pine Key Fire, which started on April 10, has burned about 4,709 acres in Everglades National Park in south Florida. It started near Long Pine Key Campground and with 20 mph winds quickly spread through pine rocklands and prairies south of the Main Park Road. It has threatened several park resources and structures and reduced visibility on roads.

A portion of the fire is burning in an area recently treated with a prescribed fire. The reduction in fuels benefits firefighters, making the fire easier to control.

map Long Pine Key Fire
Map of the Long Pine Key Fire in Everglades National Park. The Park reports the latest data shows the fire has burned 4,709 acres.

As of April 12, the Main Park Road is open. There is a 2-mile section of the Main Park Road towards Flamingo where cars are being escorted by Law Enforcement rangers. Royal Palm and Flamingo Visitor Centers are open. Research Road and the Nike Missile Base remain closed.

HID West prescribed fire in Everglades

prescribed fire Everglades National Park
Photo by Aerin Land, NPS

Everglades National Park Fire Management personnel conducted the HID West prescribed fire on January 23. The objectives were to consume dead and decaying vegetation, to release nutrients that promote new growth, and improve habitat.

prescribed fire Everglades National Park
Photo by Cory Dutton, NPS
prescribed fire Everglades National Park
Photo by Aerin Land, NPS

Wildland fire management in the Everglades

everglades sign

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.

Northwest River of Grass prescribed fire
A tram full of park visitors cruises past the Northwest River of Grass prescribed fire in December, 2014. Screen shot from the video below.

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.

Everglades prescribed fire
Fire Information Officer Katherine Corrigan standing in a an area that burned in a prescribed fire nine months previously, in April, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
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
Jack Weer, Assistant Fire Management Officer, Everglades National Park. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
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.
Everglades fire engines Chris Corrigan
Engine Captain Chris Corrigan and two of Everglade’s engines. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

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: