Remember… Prescribed Fire Can Prevent Out-of-Control Wildfires
Smokey Bear's former message - "Remember… Only YOU can prevent forest fires." - was catchy, easy to understand, and somewhat incomplete.
Despite Smokey's decades-old admonition, many experts are constantly working to prevent wildfires. And, in fact, fire is not always bad. Excluding it entirely from woodlands can do more harm than good. Hillsborough County has a robust prescribed fire program that uses fire to protect residents, encourage diverse and healthy ecosystems, and ensure people can enjoy the woods.
Fire is part of nature. It becomes a problem, sometimes tragically, when leaf litter, brush, and dead vegetation are unimpeded by naturally-occurring or prescribed fires. Out-of-control blazes such as ones now threatening communities in Northwestern states are deterred by prescribed fires that consume combustible brush and create open areas where flames are unlikely to spread.
The County's Conservation & Environmental Lands Management department conducts prescribed burns throughout the year on environmentally sensitive lands acquired through the Jan K. Platt Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program (ELAPP). These carefully managed fires usually last one day, and are ignited only when conditions are favorable.
Since 2017, Hillsborough County has staged prescribed fires on more than 26,000 acres in its Nature Preserves and Conservation Parks.
Wooded areas near subdivisions, roadways, schools, and other manmade structures pose challenges. Each situation is different. Highly trained forest managers take all factors into account.
Planned and executed correctly, a prescribed fire in an area every few years has these benefits:
- Removes brush, exotic vegetation, and dead wood on the forest floor, reducing fuels that can increase the intensity and longevity of wildfires.
- Limits the likelihood that wildfires will spread to areas where they pose the most danger to people and structures.
- Promotes healthy ecosystems by increasing beneficial nutrients in soil and stimulating growth and seed production, which provides food for wildlife.
- Encourages ecotourism by keeping woodlands accessible to hikers and others who go to wilderness areas for fun, exercise, and viewing wildlife.
Want to know if a prescribed fire is planned near your neighborhood or business? Hillsborough County posts notices in areas where the fires take place. The County also spreads the word on social media platforms. You may request an advance email notice of prescribed fires at Hillsborough County Nature Preserves and Conservation Parks.
Smokey Bear's message has modified somewhat since the original campaign launched in the mid-1940s. Now it's more nuanced, with mention both of fires' dangers and benefits.
If Smokey Bear can change his outlook, so can we.
To read more about Hillsborough County conservation parks and preserves, subscribe to the Trailblazer Newsletter.