LITHIA — The Balm-Boyette Nature Preserve is closed until further notice after a lightning strike caused a wildfire there.
The fire burned about 100 to 120 acres of sand pines near both sides of the main entrance at 13998 Balm-Boyette Road.
"It looks like a nuclear bomb went off," said Ross Dickerson, county conservation manager for the site.
Dickerson said the area, which burned July 28, is still hot, and damaged trees could pose a threat if they fall. Workers will remove many of the trees, he said.
Believe it or not, the fire was a good thing. The corner of the nearly 5,000-acre preserve where lightning struck was heavily overgrown and slated for a controlled burn sometime in the next few years, Dickerson said. Most of the trees would have been cut down and harvested for pulp.
The lightning strike beat officials to the punch.
"Mother Nature planned this one," Dickerson said.
The preserve, a protected property under the Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program, contains the largest continuous section of pine scrub habitat in Hillsborough County and is the subject of a massive, decade-long restoration project.
The bulk of the effort involves controlled burns to thin out the overgrown brush, weeds and trees to stimulate native plant growth.
Before people and development moved into Florida, wildfires were part of nature's natural cycle, Dickerson said. Once the smoke clears and dust settles, new plants spring to life.
"It's actually really neat," Dickerson said.
Nowadays, conservationists carefully plan the burns to manage safety risks.
Dickerson said Balm-Boyette would likely remain closed for at least a few more weeks.
In the meantime, mountain bikers who frequent the preserve are encouraged to use other nearby off-road trail systems, such as Morris Bridge Park, at 1330 Morris Bridge Road in Thonotosassa or the Alafia River State Park, 14326 S County Road 39 in Lithia.
Kim Wilmath can be reached at (813)661-2442 or firstname.lastname@example.org