Control burn. Photo from N.C. Forest Service

Fire is a natural part of the environment and frequently occurs throughout North Carolina, even during a pandemic.

Between March 2020 and March 2021, practitioners of prescribed fire burned more than 100,000 acres of forestland across the state. Nearly 76,000 of those acres have been burned this year.

“It’s always good to see land managers and landowners working together to implement prescribed fire safely and effectively across the state,” said Thomas Crate, board president of the N.C. Prescribed Fire Council. “To see prescribed burning continue benefiting our forests and reducing the severity of wildfires during the pandemic, in the face of so many health and safety challenges, speaks to the caliber of prescribed fire programs and resources available in North Carolina.”

Prescribed fire, which is also known as controlled burning, is planned, low intensity and controlled fire implemented as a forest management tool. Many North Carolina forests require fire to remain healthy and thrive. Prescribed burning is essential to the perpetuation, restoration, and management of many plant and animal communities. Prescribed fire mimics the benefits of naturally occurring fires by opening the forest canopy, allowing diverse plants to grow; improving habitat for many wildlife species; controlling competition from undesirable vegetation; recycling nutrients back into the soil; and, reducing leaf litter and woody debris that fuel hard-to-control wildfires.

Prescribed fire is a delicate balance between weather, fuel and smoke management conditions. All these variables are considered and incorporated into a prescribed burn plan before a prescribed burn is carried out. Prescribed burns are conducted on days when these predetermined thresholds are met. While spring is a time of the year when our state can experience higher wildfire activity, there are windows of time to conduct prescribed burning in a safe and effective manner. Due to the constraints of weather, fuel and smoke management, suitable burning windows can be short.

As a result, prescribed fire practitioners must maximize use of those windows, implementing fire on the ground when parameters are conducive.

The mission of the North Carolina Prescribed Fire Council is to foster cooperation among all parties in North Carolina with an interest or stake in prescribed fire. To learn more about the N.C. Prescribed Fire Council and prescribed fire programs and resources in North Carolina, visit www.ncprescribedfirecouncil.org.

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