Burning a 130-acre wetland may sound like a daunting task, but the Texas A&M Forest Service, aided by two local fire departments, completed the task in four hours on Monday. No animals were harmed in the exercise.
For the second straight year, the Forest Service’s office in McGregor completed a controlled burn at the Lake Waco Wetlands, the goal being to winnow the willows and thin vegetation before they harm the natural laboratory.
Volunteer fire crews from China Spring and Speegleville joined the Waco Fire Department’s brush truck in setting, monitoring and extinguishing the blaze between noon and 4 p.m., said TFS spokeswoman Victoria Wenkman.
As usual, said Wenkman, crews conducted a pre-test before the real thing. A smaller blaze set in a designated area revealed how the wetlands would react, how the overgrowth would ignite and the direction the smoke would blow.
Before all that, Wenkman said, testers had to determine if weather and climate conditions on this day, at this time at this spot meshed with Texas A&M Forest Service criteria. Wenkman termed those conditions a prescription.
Wind could be blowing from any direction at 6 to 15 miles per hour, relative humidity could register between 20 and 55%, and the temperature had to fall between 30 and 95 degrees, said Wenkman, speaking just as crews gathered equipment and retired to the nearby education center to compare notes.
She said forecasts determined Monday would offer the best time to conduct the controlled burn during a two-week period being considered.
The test taken Monday at the Lake Waco Wetlands is the most cost efficient available statewide, requiring only fuel and personnel.
So-called mechanical testing, said Wenkman, typically includes the use of heavy equipment, including dozers and wood chippers.
The state of Texas pays for burns on public land, including the Lake Waco Wetlands, owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and city-controlled.
“There are grants available for burns on private land, most of which are conducted in East Texas,” Wenkman said.