Everglades Burn Not All Bad

Last week’s wildfire in the Everglades was the worst in 19 years, charring over 40,000 acres and pouring out smoke so thick it closed schools in Miami and other nearby communities. But in addition to threatening the already-stressed ecosystem of the Everglades, the fire might also hold keys to its renewal. The flames also killed nonnative plants, the ash provided nutrients for the notoriously weak swamp soil, and the smoke protected the endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow from predation by hawks.

Park officials refuse to paint the fire as black or white, noting that fires are a natural part of the Everglades life cycle. Fires can be good for the park, but since the Everglades cozies up to one of the most developed areas in the country, complications for human populations can be huge.

Humans started the fire, either by accident or arson, and though it’s 70 percent under control now, at its peak the flames burned hundreds of acres every few hours and raced through the dry grass at speeds of 8 mph. Rangers had to evacuate homes and several hundred prisoners from a large penitentiary, but 200 firefighters working 16 hours a day kept the flames from destroying homes and property.

Environmental advocates argue that the fire could’ve been prevented: They say too much water has been diverted from the Everglades into Miami and surrounding Dade County. But Anderson still thinks the fires would’ve happened anyway. Even better, he argues his point by giving awesome quotes:

Rick Anderson, a taciturn, stolid man of steely resolve who makes his instinctive actions and few words count when disaster erupts at the borders of wilderness and civilization. Can’t you just see him being played by Tommy Lee Jones, who would go on to win an Oscar for the role? Personally, I can’t wait for River of Fire to debut in 2010. I’ll take my check now, Hollywood.

— Ted Alvarez

Everglades Park Counts the Good and Bad After a Blaze (NY Times)