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Usually, when 70 acres of anything is on fire, alarms are sounded and cavalries are called, but back down a long dirt road called Bear Swamp, deep inside the Nassawango Creek Preserve — the state's largest privately owned natural area, made up of more than 10,000 acres of upland forest and bald cypress swamp — dozens of ecologists dressed in hardhats and yellow jumpsuits are as calm as can be, as they are actually the ones setting the blaze.
"Historically, wildfires used to sweep through this area periodically, and what's happened now is folks have moved in, we've created roads, subdivisions, Walmart's ," says Deborah Landau, a conservation ecologist for the Maryland-D.C. chapter of the nature conservancy.
Landau says that restorative or prescribed fires like this one basically reboot the land and kick-start new life.
"The heat pulse that comes through the ground that stimulates a lot of the native plants to germinate has really speeded up the ecological restoration of these natural areas," she says.
So even though one might equate fire with destruction, Landau says in this case, it's all about renewal.