State to conduct controlled burns in Pasco through end of year

These scorched cabbage palms in the Weeki Wachee Preserve bear the scars of a wildfire that burned hundreds of acres in 2017. State officials recently announced that a number of controlled burns will be conducted in Pasco County through the end of the year to help ensure excess brush and other potential fuel for wildfires is eliminated.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, but it’s not always something to worry about. If it’s a controlled burn with firefighters on the scene to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand, brush fires are a good thing.

Pasco officials are not advising residents to ignore smoke in the vicinity of the burns, said Tambrey Laine, Pasco County public information officer, as there’s always a chance a fire might not be part of the planned burns.

Laine said the advance notice of the burns for stories such as this one are designed to make residents aware of the burns, but those with concerns that a fire might need to be reported should feel free to do so.

“We would never say don’t call,” said Laine. “For safety’s sake, we’d rather they err on the side of caution.”

The controlled fires are destructive, but according to the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which will be conducting the burns, they’re designed to be.

According to Susanna Martinez Tarokh, SWFWMD public information officer, prescribed fires eliminate excess fuel in the natural environment, reducing the risk of wildfires burning out of control. During dry conditions, like those experienced during the Florida wildfires of 2017, thousands of acres were destroyed and thousands of residents had to be evacuated.

The burns this year will include the following woodlands:

• 300 acres at the Cypress Creek Preserve, which is east of the Ehren Cutoff south of State Road 52

• 500 acres at the Conner Preserve, west of the Ehren Cufoff south of State Road 52

• 600 acres in the Starkey Wilderness Preserve, located east of New Port Richey, west of the Suncoast Parkway and north of S.R. 54

• 550 acres of the Upper Hillsborough Preserve, located south of County Road 54 and east of Chancey Road in Zephyrhills

• 100 acres of the Weeki Wachee Preserve, located just west of U.S. 19 near Aripeka. Hiking trails at the Preserve may be temporarily closed during the burn.

SWFWMD conducts controlled burns of about 30,000 acres every year in Florida. Benefits of beating nature (lightning strikes), arsonists or careless cigarette smokers to the punch include:

• Reducing overgrown plants, which decreases the risk of catastrophic wildfires

• Promoting the growth of new, diverse plants

• Maintaining the character and condition of wildlife habitat

• Maintaining access for public recreation

Firefighters and equipment from the Florida Forest Service will manage the fires and ensure they do not get out of hand. All of the burns will be conducted in small, manageable units to help ensure that, according to Martinez Tarokh.

Laine said Pasco Fire Rescue, Emergency Management and 911 operators will be aware of the dates of the burns so they can field calls or questions from the public. She added that Pasco firefighters will be on standby during the burns should any of the controlled fires get out of control and additional firefighting resources are needed.