The River of Fire

Everglades National Park


Good morning everybody. Welcome to the River of Grass Northeast Prescribed Burn up at Shark Valley. For those of you that do not know me, my name is Gary Carnall. I work here at Everglades National Park Fire and Aviation Management. The first objective, of course, is always safety of fire personnel and the public. Air ignition will be conducted by helicopter with airboats being used for holding and also for ignitions. Along with the SEAT to hold the south line. This is Highway 41 to the top. This is the L-67 on the eastern boundary. Gonna probably put the airboats in. Have the airboats run over to the southeast corner. This is where we will start our test fire and we will start working our way towards the west, northwest until we tie into Shark Valley. We have a prescribed fire that is going on. And, some people call them controlled burns. But, they are planned for up to several years in advance. What do you know about fires in Everglades? Well, I work in the environmental industry but in California where we do controlled burns to control fuel loads for trees and stuff. But, I don’t know what you are trying to do here. Well, that is exactly part of our objective for this burn. Part of it is to reduce the fuel loading or the burnable vegetation that could become hazardous if a wildfire were to start here. From this tram ride, you can actually see some prescribed fire going on. But, once we get up to the tower, we can talk more about what we are seeing and the smoke column and the prescribed fire that is going on today. This is Carnall on white, go ahead 4 Hotel Hotel. OK, I am on my way. I will be there in a minute. Copy, same place, you will just land in between the boat ramp and the engine. So, a lot of people want to know how we ignite fires out in the everglades. And, it is a little bit different. A lot of places, they will have a device called a drip torch that drops a mixture of diesel and gasoline out on the ground. And, you ignite it as you go. Here, we use helicopters a lot to ignite the fires. And, what that helicopter does is it drops a little ping pong ball full of a chemical called potassium permanganate. Just before it is dropped out of the bottom of the helicopter, it is injected with glycol, common antifreeze. And, about thirty seconds later, you get a chemical reaction. This ball bursts into flames. All the plastic, all the chemical is entirely consumed. So, there is nothing left to damage the ecosystem. And, you get a fire that starts. Mainly from the helicopter but also with this device which is just a hand held launcher that launches the balls out about 30 feet. The helicopter is really an efficient way to do these prescribed burns out here. You can change the intensity and you can get to a lot of areas that are inaccessible by boat or by foot. Once you ignite it, then the airboat just goes back and forth patrolling and making sure everything stays inside the lines. The helicopter can patrol the lines to make sure everything looks good. Using these, we can really minimize the impact out here. We do not have to put people out on the ground where it is not safe for them to walk and where they will be leaving footprints and boat trails that can be seen for a long time. So, what we are doing out here... We got this airboat out here on these trails in a wilderness area so that we can conduct this burn safely and effectively. We want to contain this fire inside of these barriers. In this case, we have got an airboat trail that is established by researchers. And, we got the L-67 canal. So, the airboat can patrol this line and if you get fire impinging on the line... If you get a ball that happens to be picked up in a gust of wind and dropped across the line... The airboat can respond to it really quickly and knock it down and kind of manage the situation. And, make sure that the fire stopped in the area where we want it to stop. That is the main role for this airboat out here. This is the River of Grass burn. It is a 31,000 acre burn roughly. And, the purpose was hazardous fuel reduction. And, to work with the exotic species. There was a lot of Melaleuca out here that had been treated with herbicide. And so, what happens is that Melaleuca gets angry when you treat it with herbicide and it drops its seed. So if you follow that treatment with chemicals up with fire, you can get that seed when it is still on the ground, hopefully burn up the seed before it sprouts. And, if the sprouts are still real small, the fire will actually take those sprouts out. So, you put a one-two punch on the Melaleuca. And, that second punch was a lot cheaper than the first one. And, of course, the main objective is hazardous fuel reduction. We are here in Everglades National Park. We have got urban areas just to the east of us. And, we are trying to remove these heavy fuel concentrations. Probably why these cattails are in here like this is you get the dirty water that is intruding off the L-67. And so, you got more nutrients here and it is allowing the cattails to grow. So, what happens is when you burn, you burn off these cattails and they suck up phosphorus to regrow. And, every time you burn, you will see the cattails get knocked back a little bit further. Historically, the River of Grass and sawgrass prairies here in south Florida have seen fire every two to four years. I looked at a fire history map this morning before we started... And, some of this area that we are burning today has not seen fire since the 1970s. So, the return interval for fire is long past due on this area. Because of that, in places, the fuel loadings are really way out of whack, really heavy concentrations. And, we are cleaning all that up today. Trying to get things into more of a natural scenario. Doing it under a prescribed situation today. Smoke is going where we want it. Flames are going where we want those. And, so far, everything has been good. Right now, we have got a single engine air tanker that is circling around at the head of the fire. And, what he is doing is just checking the lines and making sure everything is still inside. And, if he does happen to find something outside the lines... What he will do is go ahead and put a drop of water on it and knock it out until we can get over there in the boat to check it out and make sure everything at that point is still inside the lines and the fire is secure. So, when you look out across this burn unit that we are just finishing up... You see patches of burned vegetation where the sawgrass and the cattail has burned completely down to the water line and gone out. And then, you see areas that did not burn at all. And, that is kind of what we shoot for out here. We do not want to turn every acre black. Wildlife like a mosaic pattern across the landscape. They like areas where they can forage and then areas where they can nest and hide out and escape from predators. So, there is a mosaic pattern here. Smoke production is going to be winding down real quick. We have gotten into some of that Melaleuca that we intended to treat. And, knocked some of it back. We have gotten into some of the willow, the dense willow that surrounded that L-67 canal. And, knocked some of it back. And, so sawgrass is going to start coming back. We certainly did not knock it all back. Like I said, we were shooting for a mosaic pattern and that is what we got today. One of the reasons we got that is because of the weather. Another is because of the water levels. They really watch things. They pulled a lot of environmental factors together and made this burn a success. It is really cool burning here in the Everglades. This is the only place that I have ever worked where you can burn off of an airboat and burn in water that is three feet deep. And, it just amazes people. But, yeah, these fires in the Everglades will really surprise people. And, they teach us about them in fire classes. They say, you know, rates of spread at 300 chains per hour which is a ½ mile to 1 mile per hour. And, when you are sitting in a class, you do not believe it. But, when you get out here and you see the thirty foot flame lengths coming up through this sawgrass... And, you see the fire advancing so rapidly across water, it is just amazing. And, it is something that firefighters from all over the country have a hard time wrapping their heads around. So, it is unique to here and it is a lot of fun. I am just glad to see them get some fire in the sawgrass. Because, it needs it and it is really going to help it. And, I think it is really going to benefit the park. It is really going to benefit the habitat. And, it is really going to benefit the public around the park because of the lowered fuel loadings. Because of the decreased risk of wildfire. So, that is it. Anybody got any safety issues, problems, or something we can do better next time... Feel free to speak up. Did it meet your objectives? We met our objectives fairly well. The reduction of the fuel loading in the sawgrass, definitely. Especially, down in the southeast corner along the L-67 canal. Fuel loading was tremendous down there. We had one spot that went over, but also the fire was bumping the L-67 canal pretty heavy. Other than that, the rest of the burn unit looks great. We will continue to work on it over the next couple months, probably as the water level starts to go down. We already have our black line in. So, we can go out and pick up the heavier areas that we need to if need be.


Watch a prescribed burn in the fire-dependent sawgrass prairie ecosystem.


12 minutes, 59 seconds


NPS Video by Jennifer Brown

Date Created


Copyright and Usage Info