Wildfires are not unusual this time of year around a state rich in woodlands. We lose thousands of acres of forest annually to fire.
It doesn’t have to be.
That’s the message from Gov. Henry McMaster and South Carolina experts. The governor has proclaimed March 2018 Prescribed Fire Awareness Month in South Carolina.
A coalition of state, federal and non-governmental land-management organizations under the umbrella of the South Carolina Prescribed Fire Council requested the proclamation to raise awareness of the essential role that fire plays in both the stewardship of our natural resources and the protection of lives and property.
Prescribed, or controlled, burning is the skilled application of fire under planned weather and fuel conditions to achieve specific forest and land management objectives. Controlled burning is an ancient practice, notably used by Native Americans for crop management, insect and pest control, and hunting habitat improvement, among other purposes.
The practice continues today under the direction of land managers who understand the appropriate weather conditions, fuel loads and atmospheric conditions for conducting such burns. These carefully applied fires are an important tool to help restore and maintain vital habitat for wildlife, including bobwhite quail and other grassland birds, wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, gopher tortoises and red-cockaded woodpeckers. Beside the many wildlife species that require fire-dependent habitat, many plants thrive only in regularly burned forests.
The demise of the longleaf pine forest and associated grasslands, which once made South Carolina one of the best quail hunting states, is tightly correlated to the decrease of woods-burning.
Prescribed fire enhances public safety by reducing or even eliminating fuel loads, thereby making wildfire on that area impossible or unlikely for some time afterwards. And wildfires are usually less destructive on areas that have been prescribed burned. Wildfires often either lose intensity or go out when they reach areas that have been prescribed burned.
The message about prescribed fire as one of the best ways to keep Smokey Bear and his associates from being busy fighting catastrophic wildfires is an important one. Support and education are vital.
Darryl Jones, SCFC forest protection chief, said about 500,000 acres are prescribed-burned every year in South Carolina – most of them on private land – but at least a million acres should be burned annually.
“There are so many benefits of prescribed burning,” Jones said. “Not only does it reduce the severity of wildfires, but it also recycles nutrients, stimulates germination of desirable plants, improves wildlife habitat and protects the aesthetic value of our forestlands.”
“Using prescribed fire not only creates healthy functioning ecosystems with plentiful, diverse wildlife populations and healthy, actively growing timber, but benefits our communities by providing economic returns and reducing wildfire risk,” said Lynn Lewis-Weis, chair of the South Carolina Prescribed Fire Council. “The SCPFC appreciates the support of our local and state elected officials in making sure that prescribed fire continues to be a tool that land managers and landowners can use to wisely manage South Carolina's natural resources to the betterment of all citizens.”
As unusual as it may seem to the layman, preventing devastating wildfires amounts to fighting fire with fire.