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Controlled burns under way at Weekiwachee Preserve

Tony Holt Hernando Today
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 05:58 PM

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Setting the forest ablaze and torching 50 or more acres at a time will do a lot of good for the environment.

Such is the irony that is the Weekiwachee Preserve and other protected lands across Florida.

A series of controlled burns — also known as prescribed burns — are under way this month in Weeki Wachee. As long as the weather remains suited for controlled fires, the practice will continue, said Will VanGelder, a land management supervisor with the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

"We burn as long as there is good weather for it and as long as there is no burn ban," said VanGelder.

There are about 10 proposed fires for the coming days and weeks. The Weekiwachee Preserve is wedged between Spring Hill and Hernando Beach and rows of houses are located in proximity.

Approximately 250 acres of land will be burned throughout the month, and it will be burned in small units at a time, according to the district.

There are ecological benefits for a controlled burn, including the recycling of vegetation and the improvement of forage quality.

Prescribed burning controls pests and promotes flower, seed and fruit production.

There also are safety benefits. A controlled burn will destroy the wildfire fuels that would otherwise build up, said VanGelder.

The burn schedules are dictated by the weather. If it's too wet, dry or windy, there will be no burning.

In some areas across Florida, specialists can burn up to 1,000 acres at a time. In the Weekiwachee Preserve, it rarely exceeds 50. Various houses and highways are too close for anything bigger.

For more information, call the district at (352) 796-7211.

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