Forest Service starting massive aerial burn using hundreds of ping-pong sized balls

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The Florida Forest Service will be using hundreds of ping pong-sized balls to ignite thousands of acres of state land just north of the Polk County line.

“The burns usually average right around a couple hundred acres. This is a very large burn,” said Todd Chlanda, wildfire mitigation specialist for the Florida Forest Service.

The state plans to burn approximately 8,000 acres Thursday and 7,000 acres Friday, weather permitting, in the Richloam Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest and the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve near the Polk County/Sumter County line.

Source: Florida Forest Service

The prescribed burn will close State Road 471 between SR 50 and US 98/SR 700 for the duration of the burn. Traffic will be detoured to US 301.

Some areas west of 471 were burned this weekend.

“The area has a history of some devastating wildfires,” said Chlanda. “Keep the trees healthy but remove all of that underbrush and all of that under vegetation that can carry those wildfires.”

Due to the immense size of the burn, the Forest Service will use two helicopters to throw hundreds of ping-pong sized balls to the ground to start the fire.

“The machine injects them with glycol [a raw material used to make antifreeze] and there’s a chemical reaction inside and the ball falls out of the helicopter and they ignite,” Chlanda said.

The Forest Service has already set up fire lines to stop the fire at predetermined locations.

Chlanda says a National Weather Service representative will be embedded with the Forest Service throughout the burn.

He expects wind direction to work in Polk and Hillsborough counties’ favor Thursday and blow to the north towards Daytona.

On Friday, if the burn takes place due to weather, wind is expected to blow from the north, affecting Polk County.

“People may smell a little bit of smoke in the air and possibly see a little bit of haze,” said Chlanda.

Tampa experienced a heavy haze last month from a fire in Levy County.

People who experience smoke and are vulnerable to respiratory problems are urged to stay indoors, close the windows and bring pets inside.

If you encounter smoke on the road, the Forest Service recommends you reduce speed, increase following distance and turn on your low-beam headlights.

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