Twelve acres of the Mission Reach were set ablaze Tuesday as the San Antonio River Authority conducted its first controlled burn on three patches of restored prairie. Plumes of white smoke could be seen from surrounding neighborhoods and roads.
Acreage west of Mission Parkway just upstream of the Espada Dam on each side of the San Antonio River and west of the river upstream of Loop 410 were burned to regenerate native tallgrass prairie grasses and flowers and help keep out small trees, shrubs, and unwanted plants, according to officials.
River Authority staff considered impacts on area wildlife and allowed for safe evacuation prior to the burn. Insects could be seen both flying and crawling out of the burn area throughout the process.
After the fires, the River Authority will reseed the areas with plants native to Texas, said Justin Krobot, the authority’s landscape superintendent for the Mission Reach.
"We're planning on ... doing some post-vegetation assessments and see where do we want to target our seed," Krobot said. "If there's good stuff that's coming up in areas, we're going to supplement that. If there's bad stuff coming up, we're going to treat it.
"This makes a huge dent in the level of work we have to do," he said of the River Authority's work to maintain the Mission Reach.
Streets and sidewalks north of Mission San Juan and south of Acequia Park were blocked off to prevent pedestrian access to the Mission Reach, which underwent a massive redevelopment project to restore the 8-mile stretch of river and walkways from South Alamo Street to Mission Espada. That work was completed in 2013.
Compared to mowing, fire is a much more effective tool when dealing with invasive species, Krobot said. "Fire actually can kill things, mowing doesn't kill anything. ... Mowing doesn't allow nutrients to return to the soil, and fire does. All of this black, charred area is carbon [that goes] right back into the soil."
Although expected to finish on Tuesday, the controlled fires will continue through Wednesday of this week. The San Antonio Fire Department deployed at least two trucks to help monitor the work.