Playing With Fire

That roaring inferno you see was started intentionally, and if it can be kept under control, it'll do more good than harm

The area is of particular interest to Klein because it is among the last refuges for one of the four pineland endangered plants, the Crenulate Lead plant, a herbaceous ground cover that to the untrained eye looks like any one of scores of green creepers growing low among the pine cones. But this plant is so rare that biologists have attempted to wire silver ID tags to every one in these woods. "This plant," says Klein, "only grows in four other places in the U.S."

After a twenty-minute review of job assignments and procedures, the crew is ready to move out and set the woods on fire. Again the DOF's Skip Russell is to serve as burn boss, and his superior, Rick Vasquez, supervisor for Dade and Monroe counties, is also on hand with a drip torch. But just as the group begins to scatter from the shelter, a low, purple rain cloud appears overhead and dumps fifteen minutes of hard rain right on the pineland.

After the sun returns, Vasquez ponders the the situation for a few minutes, confers with Russell, and then calls off the fire. Everyone is visibly disappointed. "It costs us a lot of money in man hours and equipment, but you have to think of safety first. We could have waited an hour, and still got the fire going, but with the fuel wet, there would have been a lot of smoke, and we've got 874, 826, and Bird Road -- major highways -- right there," says Vasquez.

"Fire can be spectacular when there are a lot of flames. So that's a thrill. But I'm a forester, so a bigger thrill for me is when the fire passes, and the vegetation is consumed, and we restore the forest to the way it should be. That's my thrill.

In last week's issue, a photo caption in the story "Playing with Fire" incorrectly identified the subject of the photo. The man identified as burn specialist John Segar is actually Mitch Burgard of the National Park Service. New Times regrets the error.Info:Published:

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