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NEWS | Nov. 28, 2012

Prescribed fire season begins at JB Charleston in December

By Terrence Larimer 628th Civil Engineer Squadron Natural Resources manager

The smell of wood smoke will soon be in the air. Prescribed fire season begins on Joint Base Charleston in December and extends through May 2013.

A prescribed, or controlled, fire is a low-intensity, carefully-managed fire set under exacting conditions for specific purposes by experienced, trained personnel. This is a type of fire used by military land managers across the country, especially in the southeast, to responsibly manage the large blocks of timberland found on many Department of Defense installations, to include JB Charleston.

"Properly conducted prescribed fires have multiple benefits," said Roger Sparwasser, JB Charleston Forester and certified Prescribed Fire manager. "Prescribed fires help restore and maintain habitat for wildlife, including bobwhite quail, grassland songbirds, wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, fox squirrels and red-cockaded woodpeckers. Besides the many wildlife species that require fire-dependent habitat, a variety of plants also thrive only in regularly burned areas, to include insectivorous pitcher plants, sundews and the Venus' fly trap."

Prescribed fires can also enhance public safety, according to Sparwasser. They reduce, or even eliminate forest fuel loads, thereby making destructive wildfires in a prescribed burned area impossible or unlikely for some time afterwards. In most cases wildfires either lose intensity or go out when they reach an area that has been prescribed burned.

Fire is a natural, inevitable part of the ecology of southeastern pine forests. With constantly building fuel loads, fire will occur at some point. It is better to deal with a predictable amount and direction of smoke at a known time, under prescribed conditions, in a planned fire than to deal with a wildfire on that same land. A wildfire that may burn under dangerous weather conditions such as during drought, with low humidity and high winds makes the fire dangerous and hard to control.

In addition to wildfire control, prescribed fires also provide many benefits to timber management, wildlife habitat enhancement and outdoor recreation. These benefits greatly outweigh the challenges that accompany the use of prescribed fire. Danger of property loss, smoke management and air quality issues are manageable challenges that trained fire managers can overcome.

"With prescribed fires, we now stand at a crossroad with a great challenge and opportunity facing us," Sparwasser said. "At stake is the responsible management of land and public safety. We must always heed Smokey the Bear's call to never use fire carelessly or with ill intent, but the benefits and importance of controlled fire in our southern landscapes are of great value. By adhering to the principles of careful burning, within the constraints of the law and common sense, we can manage our land responsibly while protecting lives and property for ourselves and for future generations."

JB Charleston Natural Resources personnel annually prescribe burn approximately 3,700 acres of woodlands. If you have concerns about a wood's fire, controlled burning activity can be confirmed by the Base Defense Operations Center Dispatch at 764-7555. For additional information on controlled burning, call the JB Charleston Natural Resources Office at 764-7951. And remember, if you smell woods smoke this winter, not all fire is bad.