Fighting fire with fire: Blue Ridge RC&D hosts prescribed burn education day | News

NEW RIVER STATE PARK – Not all fires are bad fires, according to New River Ranger Josh McIntyre. He, along with Blue Ridge Resource Conservation & Development Council Inc. and many other fire safety professionals, conducted fire training at New River State Park to demonstrate how fire can be used to rehabilitate and enhance natural landscapes.

While the High Country had a dry start to winter, the wet January conditions were right for the “learn and sleep” event at Wagoner Access in New River State Park, right next to the river.

Fires in western North Carolina have been a concern throughout the winter, rising over the region and burning hundreds of acres of land, but McIntyre said prescribed burns are one of the most important land management tools used to reduce the likelihood of unplanned and dangerous forest fires.

Echoing the mantra that “good fires prevent bad fires,” he said burning low-lying dry brushes takes fuel away from unplanned forest fires and prevents rapid spread.

According to McIntyre, the selected burn unit was overgrown with tall, often alien grasses and species such as the multi-flowered rose, but has a population of native species favored by pollinators, and has even attracted bee researchers in the past. In the future, he said, it will serve as a seed bank for local species such as blue and purple conifers, as well as other wildflowers.

The term “prescribed” burn comes from how the burn is planned, McIntyre said. Which area is decided to be part of the “unit” depends on many factors, including what types of shrubs and wildlife are present, proximity to buildings or waterways, and climatic conditions contribute to a burning plan designed specifically for each planned fire. .

McIntyre said fire has long been part of natural landscapes and it can play an important role in ecosystems. Some species, such as turkeys and some amphibians, increase the population after fires, while others, such as mountain table pine, are even considered fire-dependent.

Fires, in addition to being more natural than chemicals, are also a cheaper and faster way to speed up natural processes. McIntyre said the decomposition of the lush layer, the top layer of soil that decomposes, happens faster and more efficiently through fire. After burning, he said the soil is rich in nutrients.

In New River State Park, firefighters and people certified by a certified North Carolina vodka course began the day with a test burn. After consulting with the local National Weather Service station and collecting climate data for the day, given how many bushes will burn and how much smoke will be emitted into the atmosphere, “Burns Manager”, New River Park Manager Joseph Schimmel, and his team lit a fire at the edge of the planned combustion zone and watched where and how quickly the fire spread.

Using a drip torch, the team set fire to a 3: 1 mixture of diesel and gasoline around the perimeter of the burn area with such precision that items outside the fire line, such as a wooden pole and a wooden picnic bench, remained intact within clean, unburned circles. smoldering field.

Smoke was blowing over the crowd of park and forest service staff, other landowners and management professionals, and the flames were moving across the ground, eating away at the dry and yellowed grass, leaving blackened soil in its path.

Blue Ridge RC&D director Jonathan Hartsell said his organization hopes to inform landowners about their management options and engage them in training to make sure those burns are done responsibly. He said those interested in carrying out burns on their property could take a multi-day certification course for burns at the North Carolina Forest Service.

Although for many people fires seem unnatural, Hartsel said firefighting is a fairly recent phenomenon for humans. In the early 20th century, he said that people do not want fires at all and will put out fires even if they are not threatened by damage to people or buildings.

“This has caused a big shift in the forest ecology of the southern Appalachians,” Hartsel said. “We are trying to return this fire, and many institutions and organizations have realized this; they do it, but they do it in a thoughtful and safe way. ”

Blue Ridge RC&D is part of the Fire Learning Network, a collection of organizations working together on ecosystem sustainability and community. Along with members of the Fire Learning Network, other employees, such as the North Carolina Forest Service, North Carolina State Parks, the Grouse Society and the North Carolina State Expansion, came on a set burning day.

Additional security measures were provided by the volunteer fire departments of Laurel Springs and Glendale Springs, which also came out to support the event.

Hartsel said he and other regional officials hope to set up a Future Regulatory Burns Association in the southern Blue Ridge region, a network of landowners trained to do prescribed incineration that can help each other – he said PBAs already exist in other areas of North Carolina as Sandhills.

Marisa Meke is a member of the Report for America Corps for Mountain Times Publications. Reporting for America is a national nonprofit service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on unresolved issues.

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