GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Assistant professor Raelene Crandall walks her 18 students into Austin Cary Forest, part of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, where they will set a fire. Crandall and the students stand out in their lemon yellow shirts, forest green pants, leather boots and gloves, and hard hats—all fireproof.
“Wildfire season is starting early this year, because we’re seeing a warmer, drier spring,” said Crandall, who teaches fire ecology in the UF/IFAS School of Forest Resources and Conservation. “Experts predict an unusually bad wildfire season this year with the dry conditions and prescribed burns may help lower that number.”
The students check the plow line, which is used to contain a fire to a particular area and then start a fire along the edge. They stand back as plants begin to burn and the fire gradually progresses. “If we don’t conduct prescribed burns, we will get larger, often catastrophic fires that threaten families and structures,” Crandall explained.