BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - The big clouds of smoke coming from Deer Island Wednesday are a good thing. Officials intentionally set about 134 acres in the center of the island on fire, which they said is good for the island’s habitat.
Eventually, it will be good for those who use Deer Island for business and pleasure. To Lacey Westbrook, the owner of a boat rental business at the Point Cadet Harbor, the fire is a great ecological practice.
“It’s a sound ecological practice and the agencies that are doing the burn know when it should be done and how to do it,” she said.
The prescribed burn by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources was done to help thin out dense trees, helping the removal of debris from Hurricane Zeta and invasive plant species.
For Westbrook, it will be good for business.
“Deer Island is one of our main attractions for renting the boats,” said Westbrook. “It sets up the geography so people have a place to go that’s not just in the back bay, although we promote the back bay as well. There’s nowhere else that you have an island this close that you can take a very small boat safely to. So, it’s the reason we are here in this spot.”
And she’s all for keeping the island and its habitat healthy for the future.
“It is nice to see some sort of authority or agency or even just regular citizens doing something out there to help protect it and take care of it and ensure that it is a place that we can keep going and that the wildlife can survive as well,” Westbrook said.
Few people know Deer Island better than long-time crabber Anthony Gazzo.
“I go out there during the Blessing of the Fleet,” said Gazzo. “And, whenever we can, we go out there and paddle across, take a little boat across and go set up a tent out there and throw the cast net out there and catch some mullet.”
And restorative measures like the prescribed burn will keep that precious amenity going.
“It’s vitally important for us to be able to have that island here so that we can use it,” said Gazzo. “Enjoy it and have a good time on it.”
Officials are asking visitors to avoid the area for at least a week, due to trees continuing to collapse and fall after the burn is complete.