SANTA ROSA BEACH, Fla. — It’s normal to panic when you see or smell smoke coming from the woods, but in the next couple of months, Fred Robinette of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says, “that smells like some good wildlife management going on.”
Forestry officials held a town hall on Thursday night, ahead of prescribed burns beginning in area woodlands in the next one to two months.
While the fires may seem harmful, agency officials say they are crucial to the environment and the safety to surrounding communities. The town hall aimed to educate the public on the purpose and benefits of the burns.
“All of these areas, all of these natural woodlands, they evolve with fire,” said John Mckenzie with the Florida Parks Service. “We’re in the fire capital of the western hemisphere.”
“The fuel reduction, because of the type of fuels we have in Florida, it is essential for us to try to do what we can to manage that,” said Walter Bowers, the Walton County Forest Supervisor.
Officials say the animals benefit too.
“Most folks don’t know in this neck of the woods, southeast, these critters have all evolved with fire,” said Robinette. “They all have histories with fire, they don’t do well without fire.”
Bowers said the burns are extremely calculated and the protocols have been developed over the years.
“There’s a good science behind when we’re burning, and how we’re burning it and the reason why we’re burning it,” he said. “It’s a very methodical and thought-out process.”
Walton County Emergency Management will be sending alerts to residents ahead of the burns, through the Alert Walton Emergency Notification Program.
However, if you see a fire that you don’t know about, it never hurts to call 9-1-1.
“Suppose it is a real wild-fire or a house fire or something along those lines, we want to be able to get that information and investigate it and get resources out there as quickly as possible,” said Jeff Goldberg, the Director of Emergency Management for Walton County.