Forest Service: Expect more controlled burns

Published 12:02am Saturday, January 26, 2013

Residents living in the Conecuh National Forest may have noticed a few smoky days. That’s because the USDA Forest Service is performing its annual prescribed burns, said Tim Mersmann, district ranger for the Conecuh.

Forest Service staff will be conducting the burns during winter and spring seasons on approximately 115,000 acres throughout Alabama’s four national forests – Bankhead, Conecuh, Talladega and Tuskegee, Mersmann said.

“We burned close to 10,000 acres last week using ignition from helicopter and support from Forest Service crews from around the state,” he said. “We also had assistance from the Gulf Coastal Plain Ecosystem Partnership, which is coordinated by The Longleaf Alliance. We hope to burn more than 30,000 acres this year in the Conecuh.”

Mersmann said trained fire specialists use controlled burns as a forest management tool to restore forests and protect communities from wildfires.

“We have a very rigorous planning process designed to identify and avoid risks to public safety,” he said. “We follow this process closely. Prescribed fire is essential to our longleaf pine forests in this area, to reduce fuels and risk of catastrophic wildfire, and to maintain native plants and animals.”

The controlled burn or “good fire” is carefully planned and implemented under favorable weather conditions, he said.

“The Forest Service is asking the public to use their low beam lights if they encounter smoke on roads and watch for uniformed Forest Service personnel and equipment,” he said. “Visibility may be reduced because of smoke settling at night in low lying areas.”

Mersmann said the goal of a controlled burn is to open up the forest floor to produce more grass, fruits and seeds and improve travel routes for wildlife species.

“Plus, the controlled burns reduce the amount of fallen trees and brush that could feed into wildfires if left untreated,” he said. “This is very important for the safety of the people who live in and around national forests.”

Although no specific date has been announced for the burn that will impact residents in either county, Mersmann said an announcement to alert the public about the burns will be made prior to the setting of the fires.

Maps of the planned controlled burn areas are available on Forestry Service Website at www.fs.usda.gov/alabama.

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