Prescribed burning an important forest-management tool

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By The Staff

PERRY COUNTY - Prescribed burning is a management tool in which fires are purposely started under controlled conditions to achieve a desired result. It is used to approximate the natural vegetative disturbance of periodic fires.

Prescribed burning recreates conditions that historically take place in forest ecosystems.

Prescribed burns offer many benefits.

Fuel Reduction: Fires reduce buildup of combustible fuels that can feed intense wildfires and threaten public and firefighter safety

Site Preparation: Fire clears and prepares areas for seeding or planting of trees and other vegetation such as native grasses

Wildlife Habitat: Fire promotes sprouting and herbaceous growth that serves as food for a variety of wildlife species

Manage Competing Vegetation: Prescribed burns eliminate unwanted species that crowd and compete with desirable species

Improved Access: Humans and wildlife benefit from easier travel routes created by fire

Fire-Dependent Species: Certain species such as oaks require a fire-dominated environment in order to thrive

How a Prescribed Burn Happens

A burn plan is prepared that identifies specific objectives and the plan is designed to produce fire characteristics to meet those objectives. Flame heights, rates of spread, fire intensities and other fire characteristics are projected to prevent unwanted consequences and still achieve the desired outcome. These burns intend to protect desirable species and allow easy escape by most wildlife.

It is unlikely an entire burn area will be blackened and most cases will show only subtle indications of fire after green-up in the spring. Monitoring occurs at different times following the burn to determine if the planned objectives were met.

Safety is ensured by establishing fire lines around burn areas, staffing with adequate crews and equipment and only burning when weather conditions are optimum. The burn plan requires moderate temperatures, humidity and moisture conditions and certain wind speeds and direction. If these conditions are not in a pre-approved range to ensure maximum control and smoke dispersal, the burn will not take place.

Most prescribed fires are lit by crews using a drip torch, a hand-carried device that pours out a small stream of burning fuel. On larger burns, fires are ignited by helicopters dropping small plastic balls that chemically ignite and spread fire once in contact with the forest floor.

This spring, Hoosier National Forest officials will burn approximately 2,000 acres in the southern part of the forest, primarily to improve wildlife habitat and control undesirable plant species. For more information, contact Mike Davis, fire management officer, at 547-9247.