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Hillsborough County Prescribes Burns As Usual Despite Panhandle Blaze

Jul 11, 2018

Prescribed burns are a part of precautions taken throughout Florida to prevent massive forest fires by clearing flammable debris from the ground. They are meant to keep people safe, but one such burn was quite the opposite.

In the Panhandle town of Eastpoint, one of these burns grew out of control on June 24 and burnt down 36 homes. 

Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam placed the blame for the out-of-control blaze on Wildlands Service, a private company hired by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to carry out the controlled burn.

FWC suspended its prescribed fire program statewide and launched an investigation to see what exactly went wrong last month.

Hillsborough County, though, is still conducting its own controlled burns, but with some extra precautions.

"We are doing some additional fire lane work on our perimeters, on the perimeters of our preserve lands," said Ken Bradshaw, the Field Operations Manager for Hillsborough County's Conservation and Environmental Lands Department. "We have been doing some additional clearing and fire lane work in those areas."

Bradshaw also emphasized the importance of the burns. Even though the Eastpoint fire caused a lot of damage, he said controlled burns do more good than harm.

"We do a considerable amount of prescribed burning, approximately 5,000 acres or more," Bradshaw said. "In the area where a prescribed burn has taken place, the likelihood of wildfire occurring in that area is significantly reduced for several years."

Without prescribed burns, Florida's ecosystem could form a blanket of forest debris. Pine needles, leaves and bushes could build up in a thick layer that acts as a fuel that needs only a spark to erupt into a blaze.