Prescribed fires help clear the air

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, February 8, 2012


It was less than a year ago when Eastern North Carolina found itself blanketed by smoke from the Great Dismal Swamp fire and the Pains Bay fire at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.

In the Pains Bay fire, a lightning strike ignited the flames that led to the burning of 45,000 acres of land before firefighters could get it under control. In both cases, heavy underbrush provided the fuel for the out-of-control infernos.

As is usually the case, an ounce of prevention can be better than a pound of cure.

Gov. Beverly Perdue and the North Carolina Forest Service recently declared the week of Feb. 13-19 as “Prescribed Fire Awareness Week” in the state, touting the benefits of controlled burning of ecosystems.

There are several benefits to periodic controlled burning:

The reduction of natural debris such as pine straw, sticks and leaves that can serve as dangerous fuel as it accumulates.

The return of nutrients to the soil which promotes the growth of native plants and animals.

Potential wildfires that are more easily controlled, protecting the public by reducing the amount of smoke.

“Unburned forests can experience an unnatural buildup of shrubs and dead wood, endangering native plants and animals due to the lack of food, habitat and conditions needed for them to exist,” State Forester Wib Owen said in a news release. “Prescribed fire is a safe forest management tool used for native fire-adapted ecosystems and fire-dependent species.”

The desired result is to make it through the dry season with clear air and fewer fires.

To learn more about Prescribed Fire Awareness Week, contact the N.C. Prescribed Fire Council at