25K+ acres of forest being burned

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 20, 2015


More than 25,000 acres of the Conecuh National Forest in Escambia and Covington counties is part of a state-wide prescribed burn, and burning began this past weekend.

According to a release from the U.S. Forest Service, fire specialists will conduct prescribed burns on nearly 115,000 acres of public land this year throughout the Bankhead, Conecuh, Talladega and Tuskegee National Forests.

Prescribed or controlled burns are a critical management tool used to maintain healthy forests.

Conecuh National Forest Wildlife Biologist Steve Johnson said they planned to begin burning on Sunday, and through week, depending on the weather.

“We’re dependent on weather conditions for each unit we’re burning, but right now it looks good,” Johnson said. “Most of the units we have planned to burn will be in Covington County.”

The prescribed burning continues all year long, but the concentration is mainly during the winter and spring, January through May, Johnson said.

“We concentrate on the dormant season when there is very little vegetation growth, and most everything is dead,” Johnson said. “We’ll burn into the growing seasons, May and June, but run into not having enough good weather.”

Johnson said that burning will pick back up in the fall, but foresters run into problems with unpredictable weather and storm fronts, which makes it harder to burn.

The fire specialists follow burning restrictions to prevent any potential for the fires to move out of the prescribed areas.

Johnson said they look at wind speed and direction, relative humidity levels and how recent rains are and when rains are expected next.

There are 84,000 acres in the Conecuh National Forest, and Johnson said about a third of the forest will be targeted.

“The vast majority of the forest is in a two or three year rotation, and what we burn now will be burned again in the next three years,” Johnson said. “The rotation time is that short because of the longleaf pine ecosystem being accustomed to the burning.”

The longleaf pines and much of the other vegetation are fire dependent or fire evolved. Johnson said that is why the longleaf survived in this area so well.

According to the release, prescribed fires are used to reduce hazardous fuels (accumulation of forest undergrowth) and reduce the risk of dangerous wildfires that can pose a threat to the public. They are also used to control populations of insects and diseases that can kill many trees, especially during periods of droughts.

There are tremendous ecological benefits to numerous wildlife species because of prescribed burning, many plant species actually require fire in order to flower and reproduce.

According to Forest Supervisor Carl Petrick, the forest service uses various forest management tools to maintain and restore ecosystems.

“National Forests are working forests where you can expect to see controlled burns, tree thinning and tree planting throughout the year,” Petrick said. “The work is focused on maintaining the health and resilience of our forests while at the same time providing products and services to the public.”

For a short time after the controlled burns, the area may look sooty and different, but it will return within months.

“Anything that will burn is considered fuel,” Fire Management Officer Michael Heard said. “What we want to do is reduce the amount of fuel and the percentage of small trees, bushes and other undergrowth as well as debris that can quickly catch fire and spread into something catastrophic.”

During a controlled burn, anyone near the national forest may see smokes columns, may experience reduced visibility in low lying areas and may encounter additional traffic along forest service roads.

The forest service suggests drivers use their low beam lights if they encounter smoke on the road.

For any questions about the controlled burns in the Conecuh National Forest, call 334-222-2555.