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‘Sanibel Firewise Task Force’ to oversee prescribed burns at Bailey Tract

By Staff | Feb 9, 2009

The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge will be conducting prescribed burns on Sanibel Island in the Bailey Tract portion of the refuge to help preserve the natural ecology of the area and to reduce the likelihood of catastrophic wildfires.

Fire is a natural part of Florida’s eco-system, historically set by lightning. Because of this history of periodic fires many of Florida’s natural communities are adapted to burning. Fire removes old vegetation, promotes new growth of native vegetation and suppresses the growth of non-native invasive plants. In the absence of fire, many plant communities are displaced by dense, woody vegetation which can reduce plant diversity and eliminate foraging opportunities for the island’s wildlife. Species such as the gopher tortoise, eastern indigo snakes and the Sanibel rice rat all depend on a fire maintained eco-system.

In addition to the natural benefits of fire, purposefully setting and controlling fires can prevent wildland fires. This technique, often called “prescribed fire,” will reduce the amount of vegetation – or “fuel.” When conducting prescribed fires, managers consider environmental conditions such as temperature, relative humidity, recent rainfall, wind speed and direction, soil moisture, fuel conditions and the type of burn that can be conducted. Following a predefined prescription allows fire management officers to determine the desired fire behavior (intensity, flame length, direction of fire spread and smoke dispersion). A prescribed fire will not be conducted if the prescription can not be met, i.e. if the proper wind conditions and relative humidity are not present on the day of the burn, the burn will not be conducted.

Prescribed fire burn plans have been approved by regional fire experts and authorization will be obtained from the State of Florida immediately prior to conducting burns. The refuge will implement burning as soon as the proper conditions are present. These conditions can occur as early as February and as late as August. Firefighters from the J.N. “Ding” Darling NWR, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and other local cooperators will be conducting the burns.

To address safety and wildland fire issues on Sanibel, the City of Sanibel, the Sanibel Fire and Rescue District, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge formed the “Sanibel Firewise Task Force.” There are many things a homeowner can do to reduce the wildfire risk around a home. Suggestions include:

Trimming dead palm fronds from trees

Trimming any tall grasses near the home

Pruning large, leafy hardwood trees so the lowest branches are six to 10 feet above the ground

Eliminating combustible materials such as gasoline containers, firewood and building supplies from being stored under or around the home

Keeping mulch and other landscaping material well watered

For any additional questions, contact refuge manager Paul Tritaik at 472-1100 ext. 223.