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Lightning strike speeds prescribed fire on Pine Island

Florida Forest Service firefighter Chris Taylor sits on the bow of a boat with fellow firefighter Eugene Clark, headed to Pine Island to control a lightning strike fire Saturday.
Florida Forest Service firefighter Chris Taylor sits on the bow of a boat with fellow firefighter Eugene Clark, headed to Pine Island to control a lightning strike fire Saturday.

The prescribed burn plan was hovering on year three, said Melissa Nell.

The Bradenton Fire Department carefully prepared a disaster plan with different organizations and extinguished the concerns of nearby communities. Now, officials had to wait for the perfect forecast between March and October.

But Mother Nature grew impatient.

A lightning strike started a fire Friday evening on Pine Island Preserve, ending the wait time on the planned controlled burn.

The 90-acre island, which has no houses on it, has a small mangrove border and a pine forest.

“When you think of moving out to the coast, you think of mangrove and sand dunes,” said Nell, division manager for programming, volunteer and education for Manatee parks. “But a lot of it was pine forest.”

Pine forests and scrub need fire to be healthy, Nell said. It may seem counterintuitive, but controlled fires in pine forests improve the habitat and reduce the amount of fuel such as like downed trees or dry leaves that could start an unplanned and destructive fire.

“A lightning strike is a natural thing,” Nell said. “This is a part of Florida’s natural cycle.”

The burn went smoothly, as partners from Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources, Florida Forest Service, Southern Manatee and Cedar Hammock fire departments had coordinated efforts ahead of time.

Firefighters from the Florida Forest Service, who went out to control the fire Saturday morning, will let the natural fire burn and only add small hotspots as needed. Eleven personnel from Manatee County parks, fire department and Florida Forest Service will use rubber flappers, rakes and shovels to keep the fire away from power lines on the island.

South Manatee Fire Department Battalion Chief Rick Blanco said by Saturday morning, 20 to 30 acres had already burned.

Bradenton Fire Department members stayed out by the boat ramp to tell boaters about the controlled fire, which was only letting off faint white smoke by morning.

“So, God got the memo, then?” joked one boater.

Hannah Morse: 941-745-7055, @mannahhorse

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