Wednesday burning along north Coastal Highway


400-GTM-PRESCRIBED-BURNPatrician Price cautioned Historic City News readers that, weather permitting, tomorrow, Wednesday, January 22nd, the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve will perform its second ecological prescribed burn of this month from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

The burn will take place in the beach dunes on the east side of SR-A1A; South Ponte Vedra Boulevard. Burn unit 23 consists of 25 acres of beach dune habitat, between the Middle Beach parking lot and an emergency access road one mile north. As a result of this burn, the Middle Beach parking lot will be closed for the day.

“Fire is an ecological component of many natural communities in Florida,” explained Alex Veillon, Prescribed Fire Manager at the Reserve. “To maintain the conditions needed for this natural community to exist in a pristine condition, the GTM Research Reserve must burn the Beach Dunes approximately once every decade.”

The GTM Research Reserve is working hard to maintain the natural integrity of the dune systems. The radiant heat and flame heights produced by burning the vegetation will be significantly reduced during this process; because, in cooperation with the Florida Forest Service’s wildfire mitigation team, the Reserve personnel have already mowed vegetation that was either against private property, or along the highway.

“We would like to reassure everyone that the safety of private property will be of primary concern during this prescribed burn activity,” stated Michael Shirley, Ph.D., Director at the GTM Research Reserve. “Fire engines and personnel from the GTM Research Reserve, Florida Forest Service, and the St Johns County Fire Department will be involved in the operation or standing by if needed.”

While the short-term appearance of the habitat will be disturbed, the long-term effects following the prescribed burn will provide a healthier, more vibrant natural community for the specialized, and in some cases, threatened species living there; such as gopher tortoises, indigo snakes and beach mice.

A very important reason for burning natural areas is to reduce the hazards of wildfire. The exclusion of fire results in a severe buildup of vegetation, which serves as fuel for catastrophic wildfire. Prescribed fires are conducted under specific weather conditions to maintain control of the fire with sufficient resources on hand for suppression; wildfires do not show the same consideration.