Natural Fire is an integral part of the Everglades plant system. Many low growing plants, such as sawgrass, depend on fire to maintain their communities. Without fire, the marsh and wet prairie would be taken over by trees and turned into swamps. Historically, lightning fires that swept through the Everglades helped to maintain the marsh and provided other benefits. Following a wildfire, new plants emerge. Birds and other animals can be seen foraging in the aftermath of a fire. Most importantly, when fire consumes vegetation, valuable nutrients are recycled back into the marshes.
Lightning has been recorded more often in Florida than in any other state in the United States. In South Florida, while there is no clear "fire season", wildfires occur most often from late winter through spring. Refuge staff extinguish wildfires if they threaten areas outside the Refuge. Otherwise the fire is allowed to burn out naturally.
Manmade fire is a valuable management tool in the Everglades. When a fire is applied in a knowledgeable manner, under selected weather conditions, and for specific purposes it is called Prescribed Fire. Because natural fires are sometimes contained to protect people and their communities, the Refuge uses Prescribed Fire to mimic a natural burn cycle and maintain a mosaic of different wildlife habitats.
Prescribed fire management lowers the chances of destructive wildfires by reducing the amount of hazardous fuel available to feed a wildfire. Fire can also be used as a tool to control exotic plants and invasive vegetation. Fire can help control tree diseases. By opening vistas fire changes relationships in the ecosystem by allowing light in.
Prescribed fires are carefully planned. They are low-intensity, slow moving fires that generally allow plenty of time for most animals to move to a safe place. These fires are planned during non-nesting times of the year. Prescribed fire is one of the most important tools wildland fire-fighters have to allow ecosystems to flourish and keep our expanding public areas safe from uncontrolled wildfires.
Produced by The Friends of the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
Script: Xavier Cathey, Rebekah Gibble, Marta Isaacson, Marcie Kapsch, Christen Mason, Jay Paredes, Tom Poulson, Jake Tuttle, Jon Wallace, Elinor Williams
Signs: Marta Isaacson, Jake Tuttle, Elinor Williams
Audio Production: Jay Paredes
Narrator: Christen Mason
Music: Simon Wilkinson
Video Post-production: Jay Paredes
Photographs: Judd Patterson, Jon Wallace, USFWS
Video: Jay Paredes
Some images licensed through creative commons from Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org)