EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (WCCO) — Wildfires normally aren’t good news, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service set fire to a Twin Cities wildlife refuge on purpose on Thursday.

About 95 acres of prairie grass burned near Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie Thursday morning. WCCO’s Reg Chapman explains how controlled burns can make wildlife areas and forests better homes for animals and birds.

The Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge is home to an area of native tall prairie grass. On this day, crews from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Eden Prairie Fire Department conducted a prescribed burn to help restore the habitat.

This area is critical for more than 200 species of birds. They depend on this tall prairie grass for nesting and breeding. The fire is meant to clear out all that is considered invasive, so what belongs here can thrive.

“Without fire red cedars, box elders, woody vegetation would take over, so it’s a fire dependent ecosystem it depends on fire every three to five years to come through and take out all the woody vegetation that’s encroaching and it maintains itself,” Lee Nelson said.

The prescribed burn improves wildlife habitat as well as protects our neighbors in the event of a wildfire.

The entire burn takes two to three hours.

“Once we get the fire established you will see a column of white smoke going up, not black, because it’s mostly grasses,” Nelson said.

Light winds from the northwest push the smoke over the Minnesota River Valley and not over buildings, houses or businesses.

“Once the smoke gets in the atmosphere it disperses rather quickly,” Nelson said.

A group of 25 and all of their equipment help make this 95 acres better fit to host the animal, plants and birds that need it for survival.

“Then we’re going to burn upwind and as we burn we are going to remove the fuel with using fire, and when wind pushes the unburned fuel or flames it will run into the black. We call it and there is nothing left to burn. So it runs out of fuel and it goes out,” Nelson said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service improves wildlife habitat with the use of prescribed burns on more than 400,000 acres of land each year.

Reg Chapman

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