NASF Photo Fellow: Prescribed Burns and Florida Recreation

By Leslie Robertson
NASF Photo Fellow

After a quick lunch at a local barbeque, we headed to the Ralph E. Simmons Memorial State Forest where the Florida Forest Service was conducting a prescribed burn of a small area of a turkey oak and longleaf pine stand. I donned the necessary safety equipment then was escorted around the edge of the burn area by Noah Wyatt, a forest ranger and wildlife biologist.

Noah explained to me the detailed techniques the foresters and rangers use to ensure the burn goes as planned and does what it needs to do. Depending on need, a fire can be used to discourage an invasive species, ensure the health of the ecosystem and reduce the risk of wildfire. I spent some time following Terrell Drew, senior forest ranger and getting some awesome shots. In this particular burn, the firefighters were on foot and using a drip torch, a handheld contraption that poured fluid onto the ground and set it on fire at the same time. In the pictures, it looks like they were pouring fire.

We took a short break where a ranger started measuring the conditions of the weather including temperature, relative humidity, and wind speed, which he then radioed to the team and the burn boss, Leslie Stokes, and recorded for later analysis as well as to improve the effectiveness of future burns. Leslie told me that during a burn, if any measurements fall outside of a specific zone they have to reconsider whether to continue or stop the burn entirely.

Everything is done with extremely strict standards to maintain control over the burn and ensure it is working as planned. As I spoke with some of the firefighters, I learned that some of the men had red hardhats and were being trained to Florida standards by those already certified in the state, who wore yellow. Although they had experience with prescribed burn in other states, they were required to undergo additional training to ensure that everyone was on the same page.

The particular stand we were on was a relatively small burn, which I was thankful for. It was extremely hot, and the firefighters would regularly radio for a truck to come and deliver much needed water. I drank three bottles in the hour or so I was there, and I was only on the edge of the fire!

Our final stop of the day was in another part of the same forest in a recreation area. The Simmons Forest offers many options for people to enjoy, including hiking, biking, and horseback riding. We met up with the local 4-H group “Just Horsin’ Around” at the equestrian horse trails.

While a few of the members talked with forester Ben McAliley about trail maintenance and volunteer work, I got some shots of both children and adults from the group riding through the picturesque equestrian trails. I also captured pictures of Jenn educating some of the children about the trees and forest in the area. Unfortunately, dark clouds were quickly moving in so we headed out before the storm hit and to give the riders time to get home.

Read Florida’s Statewide Forest Resource Assessment, also know as its Forest Action Plan