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WOODS, WINGS, WATER: Burning marsh burning up airwaves

Oct. 27, 2013 at 5:27 a.m.


Friday afternoon, I received a weather alert on my phone advising thick smoke from wildfires in Jefferson County.

I thought, no big deal, somebody is probably burning marsh with duck season quickly approaching.

When I sat down to bang out a column this week, I turned on the tube and saw the lead story on every Houston television news outlet about the "massive" wildfires on the McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge.

I chuckled.

Let's go live to Harry Hyperbole on the scene of the blaze.

"There is smoke everywhere. Five thousand acres of marsh have been damaged, and refuge officials say they may not have the fire under control until tomorrow."

While on-site reporters sensationalized the magnitude of the flames and smoke with live aerial shots of a burning marsh, waterfowl hunters were smiling, knowing a burning marsh means better hunting.

Wildlife managers have been burning marshes for years - it's actually taught in the curriculum at the college level for most wildlife management degrees. And, this burn did not ignite from carelessness; rather, whether the refuge admits it or not, it was meant to be a controlled burn, and the wind kicked up, shot up flames and sent smoke to heavily populated areas.

One reporter said they were fighting the fire with boats because they couldn't get fire trucks in a marshy area.

"It's burning out of control!"

It's a quagmire of moist mud and water, people.

The ponds, bayous, sloughs, beaches and Intracoastal Waterway surrounding McFaddin controls the burn.

Maybe the media assumed the fire was out of control because most decisions the federal government (the Department of the Interior oversees U.S. Fish and Wildlife) have made recently have been out of control.

The truth is no one was fighting the fire - they were letting it burn, just like it was intended. Sure, it might have swelled a bit when the east, northeast wind kicked up, appearing as if it was out of control. It will be tough to get the real story from Fish and Wildlife concerning who and how the fire started. A look from those aerial photos show separate burns throughout the marsh, giving rise to the notion it didn't start in one spot and spread.

All hunters who frequent marshes know what really happened.

The real story will be how many snow geese hit those fresh green sprouts that will emerge from the burn in a few weeks. I remember walking in to McFaddin from the High Island beach in a fog so thick you could barely see the end of your nose. I also remember the pile of snow geese that perished in that marsh that day.

Waterfowl and waterfowl hunters are the winners here.

Guess what? Expect to see more marsh fires.

Those Cajuns on the other side of the Sabine River will be lighting up their marshes soon because their waterfowl season opens a couple of weeks later than ours.

If you see a puff of smoke coming from a certain piece of marsh near Matagorda, it is probably me with torch in hand.

Now, if you intend to burn large acreage, I encourage you to call emergency management officials in your county to alert them of your actions so they don't come running when someone calls about a "fire burning out of control."

To all those in a panic - get off the concrete once in a while.

The Texas coast is a wild place.

Bink Grimes is a freelance writer, photographer, author and licensed captain (binkgrimes@sbcglobal.net).

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