USA — Weather permitting, Lewes firefighters, state forest officials and assisting local fire departments will next week begin burning stands of phragmites that stretch the length of Lewes Beach.
Frank Buck, coordinator of the project for the city and the Lewes Fire Department, said controlled burning of the vegetation in small increments would begin only if weather conditions were right for doing the job.
A total of about 60 acres of vegetation would be burned between mid-March and the first week of April, Buck said.
He said they plan to burn vegetation on weekdays and would burn on weekends only as a last resort. Buck stressed that phragmites burning would take place only if ground-level winds and upper-level mixing winds cooperated to dissipate smoke.
Its going to produce a very heavy column of black smoke, its probably the most dense smoke youll ever see. But we dont want to smoke people out, Buck said. He said if smoke travels in the direction of residences, the burn would be halted.
Buck said state forestry officials with special wildfire training would do much of the actual ignition of the vegetation and would closely assist firefighters in monitoring the burn. Weve all had wildfire training, and done a lot of proscribed burning of wildland which is a little different than houses, Buck said.
The controlled burn, which is a fuel reduction strategy to prevent wildfires, is part of the citys hazard mitigation plan. The last controlled burn of phragmites in Lewes occurred in the 1960s.
The fire company used to burn the marsh every year to cut down on the fire danger, Buck said. An accidental phragmites fire touched off by fireworks burned several acres about a decade ago. Accidental boat fires in recent years have also set areas of the vegetation ablaze.
Buck said the phragmites were sprayed with herbicide in October to further reduce growth of the plants. He said the herbicide spraying method would continue to be used for the next couple of years
The spraying is done just before the phragmites goes dormant and turns brown in the winter. You dont see any results until the following late spring when it starts greening up, Buck said. He said cutting phragmites before spraying it isnt effective. He said the cut material also contributes to clogging the citys stormwater ditch system.
Buck said burning the phragmites now also minimizes the impact on nesting birds.
Lewes is the recipient of a Wildland/Urban Interface Program grant, which promotes creation of defensible space around structures and other improvements to provide a maximum amount of protection from the threat of wildfire.
The city has also received a Firewise program grant. Firewise provides educational information on how to protect life and property in fire-prone areas.
The Wildland and Firewise grants total about $45,000.