Paynes Prairie Festival to Increase Prescribed Fire Awareness
By Marena Smith, UF Student
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park will host its annual Fire Fest on March 29 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the visitor’s center to celebrate prescribed fire awareness.
This outdoor event is focused on expanding the public’s knowledge about how any why prescribed fires take place in Paynes Prairie.
Amber Roux, parks service specialist said, a prescribed burn is a fire that the rangers set themselves with the purpose of restoring the native habitat.
“[Paynes Prairie] is a fire-dependent ecosystem, and we still need to have fire in these systems to keep them healthy and functional,” Roux said.
During Fire Fest guests will be able to visit various interactive stations to learn about the tools and equipment used to conduct a prescribed burn.
There will also be kid-friendly activities including scavenger hunts, hayrides and the appearance of Smoky Bear, according to the event flyer.
People will have the chance to learn about the careful planning and strict rules that are necessary when conducting a prescribed burn.
Matt Bledsoe, assistant park manager, said the rangers at Paynes Prairie prepare for a real prescribed fire by filling out prescriptions, or maps, that plan the executed path of the fire and project how far the smoke will go.
Concerning the risks involved with intentionally setting fire to the land, experts at Paynes Prairie control the fire by keeping it within strict parameters that are a safe distance away from the nearby U.S. 441.
“We work very closely with Florida Highway Patrol. We would not do a burn if it was projected to affect the highway,” Bledsoe said.
At Fire Fest 2014, the rangers will not conduct an actual prescribed fire for the public, but they will provide activities that people can engage in involving fire, Bledsoe said.
Fire Fest is a way to spread the message to the public about the safety and necessity of prescribed fire.
Shelby Krantz, graduate student from the University of Florida College of Forest Resources and Conservation, said she would be interested in attending Fire Fest to learn more about one of Gainesville’s most important ecosystems.
“I think there are a lot of misperceptions concerning prescribed fire. It’s important for people to know why [the prairie] is on fire, and why it’s okay for these people to do it” Krantz said.