Wildfires Vs. Prescribed Fires

With the recent deadly and devastating wildfires in Hawaii, it brings attention to the importance of learning more about fires and the different kinds we can see here on the Space Coast. In this example, we are only looking at fires that occur outdoors, naturally or manmade.

Fires can be dangerous – but are they always bad for the environment?

Wildfires are unplanned fires in nature caused by lightning or other natural causes. Wildfires can start by humans as well, whether it be accidental or on purpose, as long as it is not controlled. Prescribed fires are manmade, controlled fires that serve a purpose. Prescribed fires are ignited for a few reasons: reducing hazardous fuel loads (total amount of combustible material such as dead vegetation) and restoring and maintaining natural or cultural landscapes.

Now let’s start with the obvious… wildfires are dangerous and BAD for the environment. Wildfires are unpredictable and destroy everything in its path. Wildfires can be deadly and can cause irreparable damage to communities. More than 4 out of 5 wildfires are caused by people. Regardless of where it started, wildfires can destroy houses, businesses, parks, etc. and are very fast moving (especially if there is wind) so evacuation plans must be quick.

One way that people lessen the risk of wildfires is by conducting a prescribed burn. Prescribed fires are GOOD for the environment. As mentioned above, the purpose of a prescribed burn is to get rid of all the kindling that builds up in certain ecosystems that can fuel a potential wildfire. The underbrush can be so dense that it doesn’t provide sufficient food for wildlife, but once a prescribed burn happens, new plants and nutrient sources are able to grow, creating a “new” environment filled with fresh food and a more hospitable surrounding for plants and animals to thrive. These burns move slowly, so wildlife is able to move from the area without harm, and smoke is controlled by carefully selecting the day on which to conduct a burn; officials look at things such as wind and humidity and how they can affect smoke patterns.

Most of Florida’s natural communities require prescribed burns to maintain these natural environments. Viera is required by the Wildlife Habitat Management Plan to conduct prescribed burns in our Viera Wilderness Park, aiming for 100 acres per year. If you would like to be notified when a prescribed burn is happening in your area, you can register online at: https://www.brevardfl.gov/EmergencyManagement/AlertSignup.


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