October 21, 2014

Environmental Lifesavers

Maulik PatelBurning man. During winter, Maulik Patel, 34, plans to set Southwest Florida aflame. As an environmental specialist at Collier–Seminole State Park, Patel is charged with burning the park’s 10 pyric communities—the areas of the park that needs fire to thrive.

Light it up. How often an area is set ablaze is dependent on the plant life in the community. When deciding to ignite an area, burn bosses consider factors such as the type of vegetation in and outside the zone, weather conditions and a plausible contingency plan.

Burn, Baby, BurnScorched earth. Florida has been on fire for hundreds of years; Patel’s job is to emulate Mother Nature’s work. Burning areas clears out undergrowth, old vegetation and leaf litter, which allows new growth to flourish. Prescribed burns remove fuel that would feed a wild blaze, which lowers the intensity and reach of natural brush fires.

Natural results. As a burn boss, Patel has prescribed 25 fires and worked on more than 100 burn sites. “When I burn, I like to have a mosaic pattern, where you have areas that are completely burned of vegetation and other areas that are barely even touched.” Burning on rotation will naturally produce a mosaic result, which provides animals unburned vegetation for food and refuge.

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