Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

It seems to happen every spring: South Florida smells like a campfire made of burning paper from a wildfire in the Everglades.

It was true for much of Miami-Dade and Broward counties, even though the fire was 100 miles away, scorching 35,850 acres of the Big Cypress Preserve between Tamiami Trail and Alligator Alley.

The blaze, started by lightning on April 26, spread dense smoke and high ozone levels as far at the Atlantic Coast as winds shifted eastward early Tuesday morning. More wind shifts later Tuesday were expected to carry most of the murk south and west, away from Miami-Dade and Broward.

Local health officials issued air quality advisories urging young children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions to say indoors.

“Outdoor activities, especially exercising or physical chores should be avoided,” said an advisory from the Miami-Dade Department of Environmental Resources Management.

Despite the health risks for some people, fires are actually a good thing for the Everglades.

“Ecologically, fire is a benefit,” said Bob DeGross, chief of interpretation for the Big Cypress National Preserve, where the blaze has swept across nearly 36,000 acres. In fact, the benefits are so essential that wildfire crews aren’t trying to put out the fire, but instead simply contain it within a specific area.

In the Everglades, the diverse mosaic of sawgrass prairies, cypress sloughs, tropical hammocks, pine forests and other systems evolved over centuries of regular burns. Fires perform multiple roles, DeGross said, burning away exotic invaders and decaying brush and then recharging the soil with ashy nutrients that will feed new native growth, luring back grazing wildlife and birds.

Just blow the smoke other way is all I ask.