Phragmites a Fuel Source

My name is Randy Wyatt, and I currently serve as the Assistant Chief of Emergency Preparedness for the Fire Department.  I have been asked to talk briefly about Phragmites (frag-MY-teez). I bet your wonder what that has to do with the fire department. Well it has everything to do with a concept that is used in preventing and extinguishing fire; “Fuel”. Phragmites Australis is sometimes called a common reed plant. It prefers wetland or moist areas to set up its home. It can reach over 15 feet in height and is a perennial. There are two types of Phragmites in Michigan, one is native to our beautiful state and the other is non-native.  The invasive type grows dense and slowly kills the wetland below by not allowing other native wetland, coastal plants and habitat to grow by crowding it. It is a very aggressive plant that when gone unchecked blocks the beautiful shorelines of our lakes and wetlands and can create a fire hazard when the plants regenerate after its spring growth.

Case in point; on March 7, 2012 the fire department responded to a grass fire at Joslyn and Great Lakes Crossing Drive. The cause is still undetermined but what we do know is that Phragmites were one of its greatest fuel sources. The fire threatened several homes and structures but was extinguished after burning approximately 140 acres.  So how can this plant be controlled? There are several methods that can be used to help manage this problem plant. First, herbicides followed by cutting or mowing can help maintain them on an annual basis. However, sometimes due to wet land and access where the phragmites have set up home, prescribed burning is used after herbicide treatment or cutting has been performed. This has a longer lasting effect on discouraging the re-growth of this pesky plant. The City used this method several years ago at Hawkwoods Park around the pond area with some success. Which brings me to why I have been asked to talk about this plant. In late July or early August a company that does prescribed burns for such problems will be conducting a burn along the west side of Squirrel  Road near Tieken. They have already cut the phragmites down and are waiting for the right weather conditions to burn the small area that has been prepared.  For more information contact the fire department at 248-370-9461.