Brush fires no match for UCF tactics
Thanks to preventative strategies, the UCF campus is hot on the heels of stamping out disastrous brush fires.
UCF's most recent brush fire occurred May 31 in the woods behind Towers 1 and 2. About 100 students were evacuated as a precautionary measure, in case the wind shifted toward the buildings.
However, there has been a decrease in the number of brush fires at UCF per year since 2005, when the prescribed fire program came into play.
Alaina Bernard, associate director of UCF's Landscape and Natural Resources, said the campus only experiences about one fire a year, and they rarely grow beyond an acre.
But the state of Florida as a whole sustains approximately 5,000 wildfires a year, according to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Most of these brush fires occur during late spring and early summer, as the weather transitions.
Despite being surrounded by woods, UCF's campus has been spared from many wildfires over the past six years. This is in part due to renovations on the landscape of campus and a collaborative relationship between fire and natural resource departments.
"Our dry season, which is typically about this time of year, [is] when the lightning storms start rolling through, but there's not a lot of moisture on the ground," Bernard said.
This does not necessarily mean that all of Florida's brush fires happen within a span of two or three months, however. Brush fires can occur at any time due to human interference.
"Unfortunately, about half of our wildfires have been from arson, mostly accidental — like kids lighting fires to build trails or people building little bonfires in the back of the woods and abandoning them or spreading out their coals," Bernard said.
She suggests students follow the rules indoctrinated in elementary school fire drills to stay safe.
"When a fire alarm goes off, it's very important to evacuate and remain calm and to listen to what law enforcement and the fire department are telling you to do," she said. "[And they should] rapidly call 911 or the UCF Police Department if they spot smoke coming out of our woods."
A partnership among UCF PD, Landscape and Natural Resources, Florida Division of Forestry and the local fire department collaborated to combat the recent fire that occurred on campus quickly and effectively.
Several preventative strategies have been implemented by UCF to keep fires at bay.
"These trails were widened 13 years ago to create natural firebreaks, so if a wildfire does happen, it's got a point where it's going to basically stop before it gets to any structure," said UCF spokesman Chad Binette after the recent brush fire.
In addition to the firebreaks set up all around campus, UCF has a prescribed fire program and uses mechanical mulching to be proactive against fires. Prescribed fires are necessary for a healthy ecosystem as it eliminates dense, overgrown vegetation and promotes plant reproduction.
According to the Landscape and Natural Resources website, UCF had successfully burned 84 acres — 35 percent of burnable lands — in the campus natural areas from 2005 to 2010. The department also states that 900 of the 1,500 acres that make up campus are actively managed for ecosystem health and function.
Mechanical mulching is a way to reduce the fuel load by breaking down vegetation into smaller pieces, allowing it to decompose quicker. It is a tactic best saved for areas near buildings and homes.
Noelle Campbell is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @Noellecampz or email her at NoelleC@CentralFloridaFuture.com.