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It’s the time of year for wildlife and agricultural burning. Prescribed burning is very beneficial to wildlife. It also helps control hardwood sprouts in pine plantations and reduces the need for herbicide broadcasts.

This year has been a little difficult. It seems it rains every time there will be a favorable wind on my place. If it doesn’t rain, then the humidity is so high or too low for a safe fire to be started. To oversimplify, if the humidity and winds are within 5 points of one another it is very dangerous to burn.

I would say the average humidity in our area is about 50 percent this time of year. Let’s say the humidity is 20 percent and the wind is gusting to 20 mph. That’s is not a good day to burn. If the humidity was more like 40 percent and the winds were a steady 12 mph, that’s what you’re looking for. Any humidity above say 65 percent will not allow the fire to burn evenly even with a steady wind.

Temperature plays a role in burning as well. You really don’t want to burn even a tall pine stand in more than 65-degree weather. All living tissue denatures and dies at about 140 degrees F. If you have a still-hot day, even the tops of tall trees, especially with a dense canopy, will retain the heat of the fire and burn the tops. Even if it doesn’t kill the trees, it will stunt their growth for a couple of years, thus negating the whole reason for the burn.

Finally the wind direction has to be correct. You cannot burn anywhere or any time the wind will push the smoke toward a residence of a highway if you are within 1,000 feet of that structure. It’s not a good idea even if the dispersing winds and the distance are in your favor. It annoys your neighbors and you are responsible for any damage of accidents caused by your smoke.

Actually there are far more accidents and damage from incorrect management of smoke that there are from fire getting out (unless you live in California). Fire will usually only burn so far in our area before it in contained by roads, streams, swamps, or simply the rise in humidity we get most every night in South Carolina.

Smoke, on the other hand, settles into low areas as the humidity rises at dusk and the winds and temperature drop. This creates visibility issues in low-lying areas such as creek bottoms and valleys along highways. If you couple this with low winds and fog you are begging for an automobile accident in these areas.

There is no reason to be afraid to burn your property. It is a good idea to take the Prescribed Burning course offered by the South Carolina Forestry Commission or have someone who is a certified burner to help you. Actually the Forestry Commission will burn for you if you prefer. The cost is reasonable. Also of importance is having the right equipment at the ready to help. I always have a friend help me. Four eyes are better than two and you can’t be on both sides of the fire at the same time.

I also usually have a tractor with a disk and a dozer or front-end loader at the ready. If I have my fire lanes in order, these machines are seldom needed. I also have two fire flaps and fire rakes that we walk around with. These are usually all that is needed to stomp out areas that might try to cross rough ground. A water backpack or even a backpack sprayer with 3 gallons of water wouldn’t be a bad idea to tote along.

The benefits for wildlife are a very tangible sidebar to eliminating competition and reducing fire hazards on your land. The tender young shoots that emerge in the spring following a fire are great nutrition for deer, turkey and rabbits. Clearing the woods of litter enables game animals to avoid ambushing predators more efficiently.

I allow some area of my place to grow up dense and weedy. These make sanctuaries for wildlife to escape hunting pressure and predation, but I do love to have wide open area around food plots and stands where I can watch the animals going about their everyday business.

Burning is a little bit of a hassle and can be stressful if you are not prepared, but it gives me a sense of satisfaction to be able to do something beneficial for my lands.

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Dr. John Rheney has been writing his outdoors column for The Times and Democrat since 1984.


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