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PHOTO: Taking a look at controlled burning

March 21, 2013 at midnight
Updated March 20, 2013 at 10:21 p.m.

From left, Marcos Alcala, Jeff Adams, Josh DuBoise and Nate Kerchner watch as plumes of smoke rise from an area selected for a controlled burn on Aransas Wildlife Refuge land. Alcala, DeBoise and Kerchner worked together as a team of three administering fire to selected portions of the land.

Fires don't always start with a match or by accident.

Some are carefully planned, studied, analyzed and dealt with exact precision. These fires are controlled burns, fires performed by expert wildlife and agriculture firefighters to promote the land.

The Aransas Wildlife Refuge performs dozens of controlled burns every year. These burns are performed in order to remove undesired brush from the selected land and to promote the growth of native natural habitats.

Before the land, at Myrtle Foester Whitmire Unit, was lit on fire, it was home to cattle and, before that, rice farmers. Now, it is a part of the Aransas Wildlife Refuge with areas home to undesired brush.

Once an area of land is selected to be burned, a team of experienced firefighters are selected as well as a biologist. The team is given a broad date for when the burn will begin. The window of time allows the burn boss to select the day with the best conditions to burn.

Exact precision is not only performed while burning but also in the preparation before the burn. The burn boss will alert the National Weather Service of the exact day that they plan on performing the burn and in return will receive a report of the expected conditions of the exact location that they intend to burn.

Information provided in the weather report allows the firefighters to know how the wind will carry the smoke, such as in what direction, at what height and at what pace. This information is key in making sure that they do not have large plumes of smoke driven into nearby towns.

The burn's objective performed was to removebaccharis, oak and mesquite brush. It is removed so that new, lush grass, such as bluestem, cordgrass and switchgrass is grown in its place.

Days after the burn, life already begins to return to the land, as new plants sprout through the ash of the burned brush. The land is expected to be at full health, with little to no existence of undesired brush in three years.

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