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Brooker Creek to get controlled burn

If you smell smoke in northeast Pinellas County on Tuesday, it won't be from voters fuming over the Penny for Pinellas tax vote that day.

Instead, it will be someone deliberately burning part of the Brooker Creek Preserve.

But don't get mad. It's the first step in a plan to conduct "controlled burns" over virtually the entire 8,000-acre preserve. The burns will get rid of accumulated dry grass, weeds and underbrush _ what foresters call fuel for fires in the preserve.

Getting rid of this fuel with planned and carefully controlled fires will deter much worse wildfires that could be ignited by careless smokers, lightning or some other cause, said Craig Huegel, manager of the county-owned preserve.

The fires also will get rid of unwanted plants, such as cogon grass.

In the long run, Huegel said, the controlled fires will enhance the diversity of plant and animal life in the preserve.

Assistant preserve manager Mark Dosmann, a forester with expertise in controlled burns, said he has designated two possible areas for burning Tuesday. Which one will be burned will depend on the wind.

If the wind is blowing generally from the south, the area that will be burned is 23 acres just north of the Upper Pinellas Youth Sports Complex and a Pinellas County water treatment plant off Old Keystone Road. A south wind would blow the smoke over an uninhabited area.

If there's a wind generally from the north, the burn will be on 35 acres farther north off Trinity Boulevard near the Pinellas-Pasco county line.

And if the wind is blowing too hard or from the wrong direction or it rains, the burn will be postponed until Wednesday or Thursday.

The fire will probably be touched off between 9 and 10 a.m.

Dosmann, who will be in charge of the burn, said the entire perimeter of the fire area will be plowed to a width of 12 feet to form a fire break. Also, interior fire breaks will be mowed.

He said there will be plenty of people on hand and equipment on standby to make sure the fire doesn't get out of control.

They will include personnel from the East Lake and Oldsmar fire departments, the Florida Division of Forestry and the Gulf Islands GEOPark, as well as Huegel and Dosmann from the Brooker Creek Preserve.

If a problem develops, firefighters and equipment from East Lake, Oldsmar and other fire departments will be called to the scene, Dosmann said.

The preserve is in the East Lake Fire District. East Lake Fire Commission chairman Robert Genhold said that if his department gets too many complaints from the public, the burning will be halted.

Dosmann said he doesn't expect any wildlife to be killed by the fire, although some may be "inconvenienced."

"We hope the public understands the need for this burning," Huegel said. "We will be doing everything possible to minimize the nuisance problems during the burn.

"People must understand that we are doing this as a public safety measure because uncontrolled fires could be much worse," Huegel said.