Every year in Florida, uncontrolled wildfires burn more than 100,000 acres, threatening fragile ecosystems and costing millions of dollars in property damage. In 2009, in response to Florida’s wildfire problem, UF/IFAS and The Nature Conservancy created the Northeast Florida Resource Management Support Team (RMST), a crew of seasoned fire experts headquartered in the UF/IFAS Ordway-Swisher Biological Station in Putnam County. The RMST then joined with the Natural Areas Training Academy to take 40 students, mostly public agency employees, through a basic wildland firefighter training course of partly UF classroom instruction and partly hands-on field experience at the Ordway-Swisher station. Park and preserve personnel learned to fight (harmful, uncontrolled) fire with (beneficial, prescribed) fire, eliminating built-up tinder that causes destructive wildfires, protecting land and treasured natural resources, and maintaining Florida’s healthy fire-dependent ecosystems so that native species such as gopher tortoises and Florida scrub jays can thrive.
UF's Steve Coates during a controlled burn at Ordway-Swisher Biological Station near Melrose, Florida. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones