Complexities of the coast, fog, smoke and all that jazz

Today I ended up doing squat. That kind of made me feel bad since I had intended to do more than squat. I even thought about going to the beach but I was concerned about smoke.

A massive – or so I was led to believe — wildfire had been burning in the area of the McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge. The beach I go to is McFaddin Beach, a part of this U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service area. I stuck my head out the door last night to check the temperature and I detected the rich, though not totally unpleasant, odor of smoke from burnt organic material. How do I know all that? Well, for one thing I grew up in the Pineywoods of East Texas where one could tell the smell of lingering woods fires from all else. Secondly, I’ve now lived here in Beaumont, about 45 miles from the uppermost Texas Coast, for awhile now and likewise recognize the distinct smell of burning coastal prairie.

This morning I woke up to a story that had gone, well, worldwide from what I’ve seen. A more than massive car pileup occurred near Port Arthur that was purportedly caused by a mixture of smoke and fog. The mess involved between 50 and 200 cars. That particular area is probably 20 miles South of where I live and about an equal distance from near where the marsh fire has been burning. It was pretty much a mess with 54 people injured, four critically. Helicopters, ambulances and buses took the injured to, I suppose, all the area hospitals.

I was kind of confused this afternoon when I read an article on the AP wire, quoting our county’s emergency management director saying the large marsh fire which I had heard so much about, was now out. I sent the EM coordinator an e-mail, asking how long these fires continue to smolder, because I took it that the smoke involved in the pileup was from the large fire I had been reading about. So far, I’ve not heard from him. I would be surprised if he does write me back.

The marshes abutting the beaches and extending for varied distances in all directions except South are part of the 1 percent of southeastern Texas-southwestern Louisiana tall-grass coastal prairie remaining from the some 7 million acres in pre-settlement days. I grew up looking at stately trees and gradual hills, saw a little of the world here and there and for the longest it took me a while to find the marshes attractive. But yes, I do find those marshes pretty and even more so because I know they are all that is what is left of ancient land in our particular environs.

A spark from welding was what was said to have caused the marsh fire which burned, according to at least one story, 10 acres. I think I’ve seen other stories indicating more acreage than that have been charred. But sometimes the fires on the wildlife refuge in Southeast Texas and as well in the federal area across Sabine Lake in Cameron Parish, La., are set in so-called “prescribed burns.” This is how it works, the US F&WS says:

 “Burning, if done at the right time of the year, will reduce the amount of dead marsh hay present and allow other species to grow. If fire is suppressed, several years of dense marsh vegetation will shade the surface, preventing other seeds from germinating or surviving. A productive burn removes vegetation that is just above ground and is usually conducted while there is still some surface water. Water acts as a barrier for the soil, preventing it from getting “cooked” while removing the vegetation. After a fire, most vegetation sprouts from the roots and the marsh is quickly covered with new growth. In addition, many other species of plants will sprout from seed as the sunlight warms the soil. “

Okay, well we’re getting out past the oil platforms. I talked to a nice lady at Sea Rim State Park, next door to McFaddin Beach, this afternoon and they reported no smoke at all. As a matter, she didn’t even see any fog coming to work this morning. However, she said perhaps several other marsh fires had also been burning in addition to the larger one.

I suppose that is the spotty nature of coastal weather and marsh fires. If I get my butt in gear and try to actually do something, such as go to the beach, I will make sure the fog is sufficiently “burned off” (no pun intended — at all.)