What goes into igniting a controlled burn? Here’s an inside look at a Florida blaze

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Hundreds of small fires were ignited Tuesday as water management officials in Central Florida created a controlled blaze.

The St. Johns River Water Management District used a helicopter to burn hundreds of acres of brush near Orange County's Wedgefield neighborhood, according to WFTV.

Special spheres similar to ping-pong balls were used to start hundreds of small fires that join forces to create one large fire.

The method burns off more fuel on more acres than normally would be possible, with people on the ground using drip torches.

The balls are injected with a chemical mixture that ignites them about 30 seconds after they drop from a helicopter.

The balls catch fire thanks to a mixture of potassium permanganate and glycol.

"You inject (glycol) into the ball with a needle, and that is the oxidizer that creates a chemical reaction that creates fire," Doug Voltolina, who works for the district, told WFTV.

The machine used to puncture and release the balls was invented by a man in Leesburg. It helps forest managers blanket areas with fire.

Tuesday’s prescribed burn was expected to clear 976 acres -- the first time in six years the area has had its underbrush cleared.

"It's a large acreage burn, so the helicopter helps us in getting the burn done a lot quicker," Pete Henn, who also works for the district, told WFTV.

The method also improves safety because fewer people are needed to ignite the fire.

"When you have a helicopter ... rather than individuals walking on a very hot day like today, you can cover thousands of acres," Voltolina told WFTV.

The forest management team said it can safely burn more than 10,000 acres in a single day.

The agency is responsible for maintaining more than 700,000 acres in 18 Florida counties.

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