Sawgrass Fire in Florida briefly closes Interstate 75

The fire has burned 41,500 acres 9 miles northwest of Weston

Sawgrass Fire everglades Florida
Sawgrass Fire. Photo by Florida Forest Service June 25, 2019.

(Originally published at 11:36 a.m. EDT June 25, 2019)

The Sawgrass Fire in the south Florida everglades required the closure of Interstate 75 for about 10 minutes Tuesday when smoke affected visibility on the highway. A light rain slowed the movement of the blaze and reduced the smoke, allowing the highway to reopen. As you can see in the map below, a satellite was still able to detect heat during a 2:36 a.m. overflight Wednesday.

map Sawgrass Fire everglades Florida
Map showing heat detected by a satellite over the Sawgrass Fire at 2:36 a.m. June 26, 2019. The red areas are the most recently burned.

Since the fire started from a lightning strike Sunday afternoon it has burned 33,500 acres of state-protected land as of Tuesday evening, according to the Florida Forest Service. The land in the area is managed by the South Florida Water Management District. (UPDATE at 2:05 p.m. EDT June 26, 2019: The Florida Forest Service has revised the estimated size to 41,500 acres.)

Four firefighters are assigned to the fire, led by a Type 5 Incident Commander.

The blaze is about one mile away from both Interstate 75 and State Highway 27. The objective is to keep the blaze within the 165,000-acre conservation area that is bordered by canals, said Scott Peterich, a spokesman with the Florida Forest Service’s Everglades District.

For the last couple of days the smoke has been moving to the northeast, somewhat sparing the community of Weston located 9 miles southeast of the fire. The forecast through Friday calls for east or northeast winds that will push the smoke away from the densely populated areas on the east side of south Florida. There is a 40 to 50 percent chance of rain Wednesday and Friday.

Check out the video of a drone flying through the fire:

Sawgrass Fire everglades Florida
Sawgrass Fire. Photo by Florida Forest Service June 24, 2019.

 

30,000 acres burned so far in prescribed fire in South Florida

prescribed fire in Everglades and Biscayne National Parks
Cross-boundary prescribed fire in Everglades and Biscayne National Parks. NPS photo.

Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Park are conducting a cross-boundary prescribed fire this week in South Florida. So far they have completed 30,000 acres. Everglades is continuing ignitions today and tomorrow, April 4 and 5, 2019.

prescribed fire in Everglades and Biscayne National Parks
Cross-boundary prescribed fire in Everglades and Biscayne National Parks. NPS photo.

The south Florida National Parks often ignite prescribed fires with a helicopter-mounted device that drops plastic spheres which ignite after hitting the ground. It’s called a Plastic Sphere Dispenser, or PSD. Much of what the parks burn is vegetation over standing water. If the sphere lands in water it may not ignite the vegetation, but every sphere does not have to be successful.

The burn pattern in the photo below illustrates the paths of several helicopter flight lines. The direction of spread is being determined by a wind blowing from left to right.

prescribed fire in Everglades and Biscayne National Parks
Cross-boundary prescribed fire in Everglades and Biscayne National Parks. NPS photo.

When the PSD was first developed several decades ago it was called an
Aerial Ignition Device, or AID. When acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS, became a serious health issue, firefighters dropped the AID label and renamed it Plastic Sphere Dispenser, or PSD.

Dozer operator killed on prescribed fire in northwest Florida

The operator was working for a prescribed fire contractor

Gonzalez, Florida prescribed fire Map showing the area around Gonzalez, Florida. The red and yellow dots represent heat detected by a satellite on March 21 and 22, 2019.

A man operating a dozer was killed October 9 while working on a prescribed fire in northwest Florida.

Daryl Bradley Holland, 38, was pronounced dead at the scene of the project that was being conducted east of Gonzalez, Florida about 25 air miles northwest of Eglin Air Force Base, and 12 miles north of Pensacola.

Below is an excerpt from an article at NorthEscambia.com:

“He got off in an attempt to remove a tree or large limb lodged in the tracks,” Maj. Andrew Hobbs said Monday afternoon. “The bulldozer wasn’t all the way out of gear. When it was un-jammed, the bulldozer lurched forward.”

Holland was working for HHH Construction of NWF, which was a subcontractor of Munroe Forest & Wildlife Management on the burn, according to Nathalie Bowers, public information officer for the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority.

The prescribed fire occurred on land administered by the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority (ECUA), a government organization. Their plan, in a March 6 press release, was to conduct the 940-acre burn in the vicinity of the Central Water Reclamation Facility March 7 through March 9.  A “burn-certified contractor” was scheduled to conduct the burn operations as part of ECUA’s management plan for the ecological restoration of forest lands at the site. The property is in the Gonzalez community mostly south of Becks Lake Road, west of the Escambia River.

The map at the top of this article shows heat detected by a satellite in the area described on March 21 and 22.  Heat from the burn operation March 7 through 9 would not show up on the map.

Below is an announcement about the project the ECUA posted on Facebook on March 6.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and coworkers of Mr. Holland.

ECUA prescribed fire announcement

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Brent. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Two wildfires burning on Eglin Air Force Base in Florida

wildfires on Elgin Air Force Base map
Map showing the locations of two wildfires on Eglin Air Force Base in northwest Florida. The red and yellow dots represent heat detected by a satellite; the red dots are the most current: 1:47 p.m. EDT, March 22, 2019. Click to enlarge.

Two wildfires have been burning on Eglin Air Force Base in northwest Florida since Thursday.

One of them, the Wet Pond Fire, is burning on Test Area A-77 that contains unexploded ordnance, so firefighters are not entering the area and are formulating a plan to suppress it indirectly with burnout operations from roads or natural barriers. If implemented, that strategy would increase the size to about 4,000 acres.

Base spokesperson Mike Spaits said the fire started during a training mission of the U.S. Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), an Eglin-headquartered unit based in Crestview.

A second fire, in Test Area A-78, had burned about  500 acres as of Friday morning. Work on the fire, Mr. Spaits said, “will include improving dozer lines and continued scouting for additional opportunities to construct fire lines.”

Both blazes are being managed by “members of the Eglin Wildland Support Module with assistance from Florida Forest Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Longleaf Alliance,” according to an 11 a.m. update from Mr. Spaits.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Darryn. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

FSU researchers: Most fires in Florida go undetected

By: Zachary Boehm

A new study by Florida State University researchers indicates that common satellite imaging technologies have vastly underestimated the number of fires in Florida.

Holmes Nowell
Christopher Holmes, assistant professor in the department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science, and Holly Nowell, postdoctoral researcher in EOAS.

Their report, published in collaboration with researchers from the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy, challenges well-established beliefs about the nature and frequency of fire in the Sunshine State. While there were more fires than expected, researchers said, strategically prescribed burns throughout the state are proving an effective force against the ravages of wildfire.

The paper appears in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

For scientists studying fire, sophisticated satellites whizzing far above the Earth’s surface have long represented the best tool for monitoring wildfires and prescribed burns — carefully controlled and generally small fires intended to reduce the risk of unmanageable wildfires.

But FSU researchers suggest that fire experts themselves have been getting burned by faulty data, and that broadly accepted estimates of fire area and fire-based air pollutants might be flawed.

“There are well-known challenges in detecting fires from satellites,” said lead investigator Holly Nowell, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science. “Here we show that only 25 percent of burned area in Florida is detected.”

Using comprehensive ground-based fire records from the Florida Forest Service — which regulates and authorizes every request for a prescribed burn in the state — researchers found dramatic discrepancies between fires detected by satellites and fires documented by state managers.

prescribed fire Florida
Austin Dixon of the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy monitors a prescribed burn. Credit: Kevin Robertson

The majority of fires in Florida come in the form of prescribed burns, but because these fires are designed to be brief and contained, they often fall under the radar of satellites soaring overhead.

This is especially true in a state like Florida, where dense cloud cover is common and the warm, wet climate allows vegetation to regrow quickly after a blaze, disguising the scars that fires leave in their wake.

“Like a detective, satellites can catch a fire ‘in the act’ or from the ‘fingerprints’ they leave behind,” said study co-author Christopher Holmes, an assistant professor in EOAS. “In our area, catching an active fire in a thermal image can be hard because the prescribed fires are short, and we have frequent clouds that obscure the view from space.”

The state fire records also revealed a counterintuitive truth: Unlike in western states such as California, where dry conditions frequently produce massive increases in destructive and often uncontrollable fires, Florida actually experiences a decrease in land consumed by fire during drought.

When drought conditions emerge, researchers said, officials are less likely to authorize prescribed burns. And because prescribed burns account for the overwhelming majority of fires in the state, overall fire activity decreases.

This also suggests that prescribed burning programs — which aim to reduce the risk of wildfire in dry conditions — are having a materially positive effect.

“Although we still have occasional destructive wildfires, including the recent tragic Eastpoint fire, our results indicate that prescribed fire policy is helping to reduce wildfire risk,” Holmes said, referencing the June 2018 wildfire that destroyed dozens of homes in Florida’s Big Bend region.

Tall Timbers specialist Tracy Hmielowski uses a drip torch to ignite vegetation as part of a prescribed burn. Credit: Kevin Robertson
While the team’s study reconfirms the utility of prescribed burning, it calls into question prevailing estimates for airborne pollution from fire. If, as the study suggests, only 25 percent of fires in Florida are detected by satellites, then there could be “a rather large bias and a significant potential underestimation of emissions,” Nowell said.

The study’s findings are specific to Florida, but researchers suspect that similar satellite limitations may be skewing fire detection — and, consequently, emission estimates — in neighboring regions and geographically analogous areas like the savannas of Africa or the agricultural belts of Europe and Asia.

“We believe this result easily extends to the rest of the Southeast United States — which burns more area than the rest of the United States combined in a typical year — and other similar regions throughout the world that use small prescribed burns as a land management technique,” Nowell said.

Kevin Robertson, Casey Teske and Kevin Hiers from Tall Timbers contributed to this study. The research was funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Florida officials: Contractors to blame for prescribed burn that destroyed 36 homes, boats

A wildfire mitigation group contracted by the state of Florida is responsible for a weekend prescribed burn that got out of control and destroyed dozens of homes and several boats, officials confirmed Wednesday.

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam on Wednesday announced that a burn conducted by Wildland Fire Services Inc. on behalf of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission caused the Sunday wildfire in Eastpoint, Florida over the weekend.

Fanned by high winds, the fire burned more than 800 acres and destroyed 36 homes in the small coastal community on the Florida panhandle.

Drone footage of the aftermath is available here. 

“My heart goes out to those affected by this devastating wildfire, and I thank all of our partners in the response effort to stop the spread of the fire,” Putnam said in a statement Wednesday.

The Florida Forest Service led response efforts to contain and control the wildfire with assistance from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Eastpoint Volunteer Fire Department, and other local fire departments.

The fire burned through the heavily wooded residential area Sunday near the edge of Tate’s Hell State Forest. No one was killed in the blaze itself, though one man who was trying to help during the evacuation suffered an apparent heart attack and died.

For obvious reasons, the news on Wednesday did not sit will with Franklin County residents. Reporters spoke with several in the area.

From the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper:

“I am so furious right now,” said April Dalton, who lives in the neighborhood hit by the wildfire. “There was a loss of life and damage because someone dropped the ball. Children and families are homeless now because someone did not do their job.”

Dalton said she and her husband escaped the blaze after rescuing their dogs, turning their chickens loose and wetting their house down with a hose. Her husband had to be treated for low oxygen and heat illness later.

John Matthew Polous, a shrimper and oysterman, lost 14 boats, his home and pickup trucks, the Associated Press reported.

“They finally admitted to what done it, now let’s see what they are going to do,” Polous, 51, said while walking through the burned remains of his home. “Why was they even burning this time of year back here? That don’t make sense, but they was and there’s nothing nobody can do about it.”

The Florida Forest Service was among those who joined in sharing an online fundraiser aimed at assisting those affected by the fire. More than $67,000 had been contributed by Thursday morning. The state is also planning on offering immediate financial assistance.