Image from Matthew Kane, The Nature Conservancy.

Late winter/early spring is an excellent time for land owners and managers to perform prescribed burns. But why would we do this?

The US Forest Service lists several reasons to use Prescribed Fire as a land management tool:

  • “Reduces hazardous fuels, protecting human communities from extreme fires;
  • Minimizes the spread of pest insects and disease;
  • Removes unwanted species that threaten species native to an ecosystem;
  • Provides forage for game;
  • Improves habitat for threatened and endangered species;
  • Recycles nutrients back to the soil; and
  • Promotes the growth of trees, wildflowers, and other plants”

Who does this help?

Historically, the Southeastern United States was predominantly Longleaf Pine ecosystems. This includes the Longleaf Pine, Toothache grass, White-topped Pitcher Plant, Wiregrass, Sensitive Briar, Oranged-fringed orchid, and Lopsided-indiangrass to name a few. Some of the animals that inhabit this ecosystem are the Gopher Tortoise, Indigo Snake, Red-Cockaded Woodpecker, Pygmy Rattlesnake, Wild Turkey, Eastern Fox Squirrel, Blue Bird, and Bobwhite Quail. Several of these species are endangered now so it is up to us to protect them.

Land managers are working diligently to re-create this diverse environment and move those species off the endangered list. This can be achieved by replanting with Longleaf Pines and performing prescribed burns to encourage the fire resistant plant species to thrive.

Lots of smoke, but low burning fire

It can be rather alarming to see a massive plume of smoke along the horizon; especially with all of the major wildfires in California and Canada that we hear so much about. Controlled burns help to prevent wildfires by removing that fuel that would otherwise keep building.

During a prescribed burn, managers will have a burn plan (part of the prescription) to make sure that the fire is under control. You can read Jekyll Island’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan to see how a full plan would be laid out. Some methods used include:

  • Fire breaks
    • wide spaces between fire patches
    • prevents fires from spreading beyond the planned location
  • Tracking critical infrastructure
  • Share plans with supporting agencies such as the local fire department, Department of Natural Resources, and Georgia Forest Commission
  • Monitor weather, air quality, and smoke direction
  • Proper training
  • Fire safety tools
  • Personal protection with fire retardant clothing, gloves, helmets (for falling debris), and safety glasses

The aim is to keep a fire line that will slowly move across the burn area. Prescribed burn managers are referred to as Upland Firefighters. You can see in the pictures below that they will monitor from both ends of the fire to ensure the line is moving as it should.

The red tool used in the third picture is called a drip torch. Upland Firefighters will use these to ignite the fires by dripping a little ball of fire ahead of the line. The fuel is in the red portion, the pipe has a curl in it to prevent fire from rolling back into the fuel tank, and on the end there is a wick that will remain lit with fire.

OK, I think I want to burn!

If you would like to burn on your property, there are several steps you should take before lighting that fire.

  1. Consider a prescribed burn permit or course
  2. Consider reviewing the Guidebook for Prescribed Burning in the Southern Region
  3. Check the weather conditions
  4. Check for burn advisories
  5. Apply for a burn permit by calling 1-800-GA-TREES (428-7337)