THONOTOSASSA, Fla. (WFLA) — Though the heat from the flames in a 60 acre fire in the Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Preserve was intense at times, it was much less intense than if the fire had been unintentional and unmonitored.
“If we come in here and apply consistent and regular fire ourselves, with prescribed fire, then the chances of that wildfire kicking off go down because we keep that fuel load at a minimum,” Mark Maggard said.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District’s land management team started and finished the prescribed burn Tuesday in order to prevent larger fires in the future and maintain forest health.
“We can’t rely on wildfires to do their thing anymore because of the advent of people and houses and communities and everything here, so we have to mimic the effects of a wildfire in a controlled setting, and that’s where prescribed fire comes into play,” Maggard said.
Maggard is a Senior Land Manager at the Water Management District. He led a team of a handful of men in starting, monitoring and dousing out the burn where needed.
“If we burn it first, then the likelihood of a wildfire erupting goes down exponentially,” Maggard said. “Because what happens is, given enough time and a lack of fire, the fuel loads build up out here in the woods.”
According to the Max Defender 8 drought monitor, much of the Tampa Bay area is under a severe or extreme drought.
“We have went through periods where it’s been extremely wet,” Maggard said. “And we’ve been through periods where it’s been extremely dry and hot.”
The U.S. Drought Monitor shows Tampa is running the driest on record this year. That would normally mean a higher fire danger, if it wasn’t so humid.
“When it gets dry like it has been for the last week or so, especially in this region, the chances for a wildfire, of course, spike,” Maggard said.
But with the wind and humidity on their side, the land managers were able to successfully complete the prescribed burn.
“Prescribed fire in general is the most important tool in a land manager’s toolbox,” Maggard said. “Especially in Florida as far as maintaining the forest health conditions out here.”