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Tall Timbers Shows Vegetation Can Grow Back After Fires

Tall Timbers Research Center
Tall Timbers Research Center
Posted at 5:40 PM, Apr 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-13 14:58:15-04

TALLAHASSEE, FL (WTXL) -- Fires, both controlled and wild, are a natural part of Florida's ecosystem. However, this year, the Sunshine State has seen more wildfires than we've had in quite a while.

The increase in these fires is partly due to the warmer than average winter we just experienced. The lack of rain is also a major contributing factor. In fact, much of peninsular Florida is currently seeing drought conditions worsen. The dry weather and vegetation make it very easy for fires to start and spread.

While wildfires are inevitable, certain mitigation efforts can be made to reduce their damages. Prescribed burning is one such technique. During this practice, trained experts go through designated areas and set controlled burns to help clear out any wildfire fuel such as underbrush and fallen limbs.

In some areas, due to burn bans or simply their location, these burns aren't possible....and that's where wildfires can become dangerous for vegetation.

"The amount of fuel that has accumulated in those areas can smolder for days," says Kevin Hiers, a wildland fire scientist at the Tall Timbers Research Station. "When that happens, that smoldering fire, can have a severe effect on canopy mortality rates, the overstory pines or palms, and really changes the vegetation for many years."

No matter the type of fire, the vegetation will sprout and can sprout very quickly. Wildland fire scientists at Tall Timbers Research Station are able to see this first hand.

"My job is to study the science of prescribed fire and wildfire, how it spreads, the fire effects it has on ecosystems," says Hiers. 

And the fires do have a positive effect on the ecosystem, though not always right away. Florida's vegetation and ecosystem is so resilient that even a week after prescribed fire, it's possible to see a little greenery popup through the charred areas.

While wildfires do a little more damage than a prescribed fire, that ecosystem will also return. A wildfire does more damage in part because they burn longer and hotter due to the underbrush and other available fuels.

Hiers continues by saying, "After a more severe wildfire, many of these ecosystems are quite resilient and they'll be back to their normal conditions after a few years."

It may be hard envision a forest recovering after a fire, but it can, though it may take a little more time than with a prescribed burn. The new vegetation that grows back after a fire is much more lush and has more moisture that what was burned. This makes everything more fire resistant for the future.