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:

Throwback Thursday: Time to think

On Throwback Thursday today, we’re reprising an article we wrote on August 9, 2008.

****

When I walked into Bill Supernaugh’s office one day in 1995 I found him looking out the window with his feet up on his desk. I was the Fire Management Officer and had an appointment with the Assistant Superintendent of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to brief him about the prescribed fire we were going to ignite in the park in a few days. I got along well with him and felt comfortable smiling and saying, “Oh sorry, I didn’t know you were busy–I’ll come back later” and half turned to walk away.

He pointed to a chair and told me to sit down. In the banter that we usually engaged in before getting around to business he explained that he was “thinking”, something that he felt was important for a manager in his position, supervising the Operations of a large workforce and a big chunk of public land. Taking time to think gave him the opportunity to mull over the issues of the day and strategize about the direction the park would take. He said a person in his position was more of a thinker than a doer.

I wanted to slink down into my chair and disappear, because what he said made perfect sense and I was giving him a hard time. I was there to brief him about a project I was going to DO, and he was going to take my information and THINK about it, then approve it, ask for more information, or give me advice about how to do it differently, or not at all.

At 5:00 a.m. on August 26, 1992 Hurricane Andrew made landfall, knocking the crap out of south Florida and four national parks including Everglades, Big Cypress, and Biscayne Bay. Early the next morning I was in a rental car south of Miami driving through Homestead trying to navigate on back roads while driving over downed power lines and other debris. The first power line was scary as hell, but then we realized there was no electricity anywhere. Navigation was difficult because all of the road and street signs and many of the usual landmarks were gone. Even someone with us that was familiar with the area was disoriented.

We were a Type 1 All-Hazard Incident Management Team with a mission to rescue park employees and restore the infrastructure. It was a huge job and after a few days as Planning Section Chief I felt a little overwhelmed, with lots to do and not enough time in the day to get it all done. In confessing my situation to our Incident Commander, Rick Gale, he said “Order the personnel you need to get the job done. You are paid to think, not do.”

After that, I made time, like Bill Supernaugh, to think. Occasionally I even put my feet up on a desk.

Until he retired from the day to day operations of Microsoft, Chairman Bill Gates scheduled a twice-yearly “Think Week” ritual, where he would take a helicopter or float plane to his secret lakeside cabin and… think….by himself….barring all outside visitors. He would rarely leave the cabin during the week except for an occasional walk on the beach, having a caretaker slip him two simple meals a day at the cabin. He subsisted on the two meals, Diet Coke, and Orange Crush.

Think Week was legendary in Microsoft. Gates would pore over about 100 papers written by company executives, researchers, managers, and developers, who hoped to obtain approval for their new project, or a new direction for the organization. Comments that Gates wrote on the papers could give the green light to a new technology that millions of people would use, or send Microsoft into new markets. He had to be careful what he wrote, after finding that a casual “Hey, cool, looks good” could result in 20 people being assigned to a project.

Barack Obama appears to understand how important it is to set aside time to think. Here is part of an accidentally-captured conversation between Obama and British Conservative Party Leader, David Cameron. Cameron asks Obama if he will be taking any time off for a vacation this summer:

Mr. Cameron: Do you have a break at all?

Mr. Obama: I have not. I am going to take a week in August. But I agree with you that somebody, somebody who had worked in the White House who — not Clinton himself, but somebody who had been close to the process — said that should we be successful, that actually the most important thing you need to do is to have big chunks of time during the day when all you’re doing is thinking. And the biggest mistake that a lot of these folks make is just feeling as if you have to be …

Mr. Cameron: These guys just chalk your diary up.

Mr. Obama: Right. … In 15 minute increments and …

Mr. Cameron: We call it the dentist waiting room. You have to scrap that because you’ve got to have time.

Yes. You have to have time to think. Those of us in the emergency management business too often see time to think as a luxury we don’t have. True, at times, when split second decisions can have life-long, or even life-dependent outcomes. But when initial attack becomes extended attack morphing into a long duration incident, thinking is not a luxury. It is a necessity.