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Fighting fire with fire

325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

An area is burned during a prescribed burn near Highway 98, Panama City, Fla., Feb. 16, 2018. Controlled burns are performed regularly at Tyndall to aid the gradual forest restoration process and to prevent catastrophic wildfires. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Solomon Cook/Released)

325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

A member of the 325th Civil Engineering Squadron Natural Resources section sets a line of fire during a prescribed burn at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., Feb. 16, 2018. Burns such as these are performed regularly at Tyndall to promote a healthy forest and prevent wildfires. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Solomon Cook/Released)

325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Team Tyndall’s 325th Civil Engineer Squadron Natural Resources team receive a brief from Anthony DiMaggio, 325th CES Tyndall Wildland Support Module team leader prior to a prescribed burn near Silver Flag at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., Feb. 16, 2018. In addition to members of the 325th CES, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel attended the controlled burn to ensure only the designated area received a fire treatment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Solomon Cook/Released)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

The faint smell of smoke fills the air around base, to some this may create a sense of uneasiness, however, in this instance fire is a beneficial tool for Tyndall and the environment it protects. Prescribed burns, also called controlled burns, are essential for maintaining the ecological balance of the woodland encompassing the base.

“A prescribed burn refers to the controlled application of fire to forests to help maintain and restore healthy ecosystems that depend on fire such as the longleaf pine ecosystem that Tyndall Natural Resources is actively restoring on base,” said Melanie Kaeser, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ecologist. 

The U.S. Air Force Wildland Fire Branch carries out prescribed burns through modules, which are stationed in various locations across the country.

“The Fire Module [at Tyndall] closely coordinates burn implementation with all other U.S. Air Force missions prior to selected burn days,” said Anthony DiMaggio, Tyndall Wildland Support Module leader.

Preparation, training, and safety precautions are key to a successful burn.

Before prescribed burns begin, firefighters receive an operational briefing where they receive information about weather, potential hazards, expected fire behavior, overall plan of implementation and a thorough medical plan in case of injury.

Tyndall strives to be a good steward of the environment. Prescribed burns conducted here aid the ecosystem by helping plants and wildlife flourish.

“Prescribed fires are beneficial to the environment because it improves wildlife habitat by promoting the native herbaceous groundcover, which is preferentially browsed by game species such as deer, turkey, quail, and other wildlife,” said Kaeser. “In the absence of frequent, low intensity prescribed fire, shrubs and hardwoods become unnaturally dense and start to out-compete the herbaceous understory.”

“Additionally, prescribed fire is an effective way to reduce the occurrence of insect and disease outbreaks in pine ecosystems,” Kaeser added.  “Prescribed burning is also a useful tool to prepare forest stands for planting seedlings by controlling competing vegetation, removing logging debris, and exposing mineral soil.”

Along with helping wildlife prosper, prescribed burns ensure the preservation of Tyndall’s infrastructure.

“Frequent, low intensity prescribed fire that occurs on a two to three year fire return interval is much easier to control than a catastrophic wildfire that could result in areas with heavy fuel accumulation in long unburned stands,” Kaeser added. “Since pine forests surround the homes and training facilities on the installation, prescribed fire is critical to the safety of the residents and employees, and the protection of their homes and training facilities.”

Tyndall’s mission “to train and project unrivaled combat air power” cannot be accomplished without the sustainment of its environment and infrastructure. For any questions or concerns please contact Tyndall Natural Resources at (850) 283-4341.