Crews use aerial ignition for prescribed burn on prairie

Published: Friday, February 22, 2013 at 9:05 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 22, 2013 at 6:16 p.m.

A helicopter crew peppered Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park with balls of fire Friday in an uncommon method — at least for this area — of prescribed burning.

Called aerial ignition, the strafing burned a 750-acre section of the park off County Road 234 near Rochelle.

“The helicopter enabled us to get in areas that we couldn’t otherwise get in safely,” said park services specialist Amber Roux. “It enabled us to burn a larger area quickly.”

Prescribed burns in this region are typically ignited by forest crews on foot or riding in vehicles. But when a fire is needed in a remote area or one that is marshy, aerial ignition is an option.

Ludie Bond, spokeswoman for the Florida Forest Service Waccasassa district headquartered in Gainesville, said aerial ignition has been used in Goethe State Forest in Levy County.

She added that the U.S. Forest Service sometimes uses it in Florida’s national forests.

A machine that contains ping pong-sized spheres that are filled with a chemical is placed in a helicopter. They are shot through a chute that injects them with another chemical. As the two chemicals mix, they combust.

“As they come out the side of the helicopter and the spheres hit the ground, they are already starting to combust. When they hit, they ignite the vegetation on the ground,” Bond said. “They start these sporadic little fires that are all scattered throughout the burn zone.”

A number of prescribed burns have been done recently. Meanwhile, this wildfire season could be relatively mild because of an easing of the drought that has plagued the region the past few years, Bond said.

“Some years, spring wildfire season seems to start in January. It hasn’t been terribly active,” Bond said. “March, April and May is when we start getting busy.”

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