RALEIGH, N.C. (Feb. 28, 2001) -- Routine controlled burning on Holly Shelter Game Land mitigated the damage caused by a recent Pender County wildfire and allowed firefighters to suppress it quicker, foresters with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission say.
Regular controlled burning reduces the fuel load – or build up of grass, leaves, pine straw and other forest debris – allowing firefighters to suppress a wildfire much quicker than they would have otherwise.
“When a wildfire does come through, there is a lot less there to burn than there would have been if we had not been doing controlled burning,” said Ken Shughart, a forester with the Commission. “The N.C. Forest Service did have to evacuate some houses, but it would have been much worse had we not been doing the burns. This fire had the potential to burn all the way up to N.C. 17.”
The Wolf Island Wildfire burned 678 acres on Holly Shelter Game Land Feb. 19 in Pender County, just northwest of Hampstead. Commission foresters, biologists and technicians control burn Holly Shelter every year, rotating so that forested stands are burned every three years. The wildfire would have burned more, Shughart said, had the Commission not kept up the routine of controlled burning– a routine that is common on many of the more than 2 million acres of game lands across North Carolina.
In addition to reducing fuel load, control burns maintain habitat for protected animal and plant species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker, the gopher frog, the Venus flytrap and the rough-leaf loosestrife.
Fire once occurred naturally across North Carolina. Low-intensity fires burned every few years, fueled by grass, leaves, pine straw, and other forest debris. They kept the forest open, allowing sunlight to penetrate to its floor and reducing buildup of dangerous fuel loads. Fire suppression altered the landscape, allowing fuels to accumulate and putting people and communities in jeopardy.
There are many fire-dependent ecosystems across the state from the mountains to the coast, including most oak and pine forests. Without fire, many native plants and animals will disappear due to lack of food, habitat and conditions needed for them to exist.
Controlled burning participants receive extensive training to ensure that they are careful to protect surrounding communities, themselves and the land they are working to restore. Fire experts do a great deal of work before the burn. They create a burn plan, which includes smoke management details, fire control measures, acceptable weather parameters, equipment and personnel needs. The plan also details how the ecosystem will benefit from fire.
For additional information on controlled burns, download “Using Fire to Improve Wildlife Habitat,” from the North Carolina Cooperative Extension. For more information on the Wildlife Resources Commission, visit www.ncwildlife.org.