The use of fire in the forests of the United States has come full cycle. Early settlers used fire to keep down brush for better access and hunting, and to get rid of brush and timber so they could farm.

The increasing wildfire problem caused many foresters to advocate the exclusion of all fire from the woods. By the turn of the 20th century, however, foresters discovered that fire does play a role in forest management. Today, prescribed burning has become an established resource management tool in southern pine forests.

A prescribed burn can be used for more than one purpose. There are essentially three types of prescribed burns: Ecosystem burns, site preparation burns, and understory burns.

Ecosystem Burns

There are several fire-dependent species that need fire for regeneration and cannot survive unless burned. Some are:

  • Pond pine
  • Swamp cyrilla
  • Pocosin species
  • Longleaf pine
  • Wire grass

Site Preparation Burns

Prescribed burning is useful in regenerating southern yellow pine by direct seeding, planting, or natural regeneration.

  • Low cost site preparation
  • Less invasive or damaging than mechanical site preparation
  • Burn only if necessary to plant tract; residual will rot if left alone

Understory Burns

Using prescribed burning of the understory can limit competition with desired species and help wildlife habitats.

Silvicultural Burning

  • Controls competing species (usually hardwoods competing with pines for water, sun, and nutrients)
  • Improves conditions for wildlife by increasing availability and quality of food and habitat
  • Controls spread of disease
  • Reduces the cost of logging, site preparation, and planting
  • Used to thin stands that are too thick
  • Maintains a park-like vista (appearance, recreation, etc.)
  • Reduces fire hazard
  • Prepares seedbed for seeding

Hazard Reduction Burning

  • Reduces fuel loading to prevent catastrophic fire
  • Provides insurance that your timber stand will not be lost to fire
  • Burns fuels at a time when you can control intensity of fire, reduce damage to residual stand
  • Strategically located controlled burns can stop major fires (ex. 1994 Croatan Fires)
  • Intensity can be controlled by burning when weather and fuel moisture combine to produce the proper flame length

Smoke Management Guidelines

There are a few smoke management guidelines that need to be followed when doing prescribed burns.

  • Obtain and use the weather forecasts
  • Don't burn during pollution alerts or temperature inversions
  • Comply with air pollution control regulations
  • Burn when conditions are right for rapid dispersion
  • Determine the direction and volume of smoke
  • Notify local fire control office, nearby residents, and adjacent landowners
  • Use test fires to confirm smoke behaviour
  • Use backfires when possible
  • Burn in small blocks
  • Mopup along roads
  • Be cautious of nighttime burning
  • Have an emergency plan

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