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Monday, May 23, 2022

Officials light dry Paynes Prairie brush on fire — on purpose

<p>A Florida Forest Service helicopter drops small chemical-filled spheres that resemble ping pong balls over Paynes Prairie on Friday. The prescribed burn was aimed at ridding extra vegetation and combating the spread of hardwood trees.</p>

A Florida Forest Service helicopter drops small chemical-filled spheres that resemble ping pong balls over Paynes Prairie on Friday. The prescribed burn was aimed at ridding extra vegetation and combating the spread of hardwood trees.

A helicopter streaked through the Friday morning sky, dropping tiny spheres that ignited dry brush and sent plumes of smoke into the air.

It wasn’t doomsday but an aerial ignition-controlled burn at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.

The burn was part of a partnership between the Florida Forest Service and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Normally, prescribed burns are done by a ground crew who walks through the area using personal flamethrowers.

Friday’s aerial ignition burn, however, used a helicopter to burn areas unavailable to ground crews, said David Jowers, park manager of Paynes Prairie.

“You can burn larger parcels of property in a shorter period of time and get all the smoke up and out of the area and safely accomplish the goal,” he said.

The burn had been planned nine different times this winter, but because of weather conditions, it had to be called off, Jowers said.

On Friday, however, weather conditions were ideal for the burn.

About 15 volunteers donned in fire-retardant gear walked through the prairie, lighting ground fires in several spots of the 750-acre burn zone.

Meanwhile, a helicopter flew over the burn zone, dropping small chemical-filled spheres that ignited when they hit the ground.

Amber Roux, a Paynes Prairie park specialist, said the spheres, which resemble ping pong balls, are filled with flammable chemicals.

“At the time that they’re dispensed, they’re injected with another chemical that causes a chemical reaction,” she said. “It’s delayed enough to get the sphere off the helicopter and hopefully to the ground as it’s combusting.”

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Roux said Friday’s burn was aimed at ridding the prairie of extra vegetation that could be hazardous in a wildfire situation. The burn also aimed at combating the spread of invasive hardwood trees.

“[The burn] helps promote the kind of wildlife habitat necessary for the wildlife in this ecosystem,” she said.

A Florida Forest Service helicopter drops small chemical-filled spheres that resemble ping pong balls over Paynes Prairie on Friday. The prescribed burn was aimed at ridding extra vegetation and combating the spread of hardwood trees.

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