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Palm Coast Monday, May 3, 2021 1 month ago

Flagler County drops chemical 'ping pong balls' from helicopter for prescribed fire at Princess Place

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The aerial ignition machine on FireFlight is used to start the fire.
by: Julie Murphy Flagler County Public Information Officer

Flagler County on Friday, April 30, successfully completed its first prescribed fire utilizing FireFlight equipped with an aerial ignition machine to set fire to 85 acres within Princess Place Preserve.

“This is a great success for us – the beginning of something safer and more effective for our (Land Management) prescribed fire mitigation program,” said Prescribed Fire Program Supervisor Mike Orlando, who is “burn boss” for the day. “And, the third time is the charm – we scheduled this two other times this year, but things outside of our control prevented it from happening.”

Under certain circumstances, the aerial ignition process is better for achieving prescribed fire objectives than lighting the fire from the ground. Orlando, who has an Aerial Ignition Device certification through the Florida Forest Service, operated the aerial ignition machine from within the helicopter, which was flown by Flight Operations Chief Dana Morris.

“There was a lot of experience in that helicopter,” said Morris, who used aerial ignition when he worked in the Rocky Mountains. “Michael and Ashley Orlando (Florida Park Service’s Backlog Abatement Team Leader) and I worked really well together, and it went off without a hitch. It sets a great foundation for doing more of this work in the future.”

Prescribed fire in Princess Place Preserve. Photo captured by Flagler County's drone team.

The machine releases spheres about the size of ping pong balls that create a chemical reaction to start the fire.

“This allows us to manage the intensity of the fire over a larger area,” said Environmental Projects Supervisor Mike Lagasse. “By starting multiple small fires within the unit, the fuel is consumed at a lower intensity – it burns itself out faster.”

A successful prescribed fire, sometimes also referred to as a “controlled” fire, removes the hazardous level of fuel in a given area. Unplanned wildfires have a greater risk of being destructive, because the accumulation of vegetation serves as the fuel for these hotter, faster moving fires.

Flagler County’s goal with prescribed fire in Princess Place Preserve is to restore natural fire back into ecosystems and remove hazardous fuels. Longleaf pine already exists in many areas of the burns – which mimics the natural fires that have historically occurred every two to three years within longleaf pine ecosystems. A thriving ecosystem reduces the invasive species populations while enhancing other native plants and animals.

Land Management maintains about 10,000 acres of environmentally sensitive lands within Flagler County.

Flagler County Fire Rescue, St. Johns River Water Management District, and the Florida Park Service assisted Land Management with today’s effort. Flagler County’s drone team documented the event.

“Drones are a valuable resource for identifying hot spots and spot fires before they can spread,” said Matt Adams, GIS Developer / UAS Coordinator. “This was a great exercise to coordinate our communication with the helicopter while a drone is flying simultaneously.”

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