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Supporting our Forests with Fire

Controlled burn

It takes many elements to help forests thrive. Water, soil and sunlight are the most commonly known. But there’s another required element for many forests — fire. As counter intuitive as it may seem, the need for prescribed burns to support heathy forests is growing. Fire plays a vital role in maintaining forest ecosystems by not only stimulating the germination of some trees, thus renewing the forest, but also preventing insect and disease epidemics from thriving. The absence of low intensity fires also increases the risk of large fire events due to fuel build up.

As part of the Southeast Regional Partnership for Planning and Sustainability (SERPPAS) Prescribed Fire Working Group, NC State’s College of Natural Resources is helping to increase the number of qualified professionals available to meet the demand for more prescribed burners across the country.

Fire Training Exchange Brings Together Participants from 13 States and Spain

This spring, the College of Natural Resources helped lead a Prescribed Fire Training Exchange (TREX) that brought together 58 participants and cadre of all skill levels from 13 states and Spain. The group included one private landowner as well as representatives from over 20 different federal, state, county, municipal, non-profit and university organizations.
A TREX is an innovative program that matches the specific learning objectives of individuals to a multi-week fire event consisting of skill building, burning and activities that demonstrate fire’s role in landscape conservation. In addition to on-the-ground training, a TREX also gives fire practitioners the opportunity to integrate with local stakeholders and natural resource managers to learn about local fire management practices including fuel types and fire ecology.

Training in NC Sandhills Highlights Prescribed Burning and Local Ecology

Despite some of the coldest temperatures on record in the NC Sandhills and precipitation in the forms of snow, ice and rain, participants in the spring NC TREX were able to burn 163 acres of longleaf pine habitat on three separate tracts owned by TNC and NC Wildlife Resources in just the first two days. As the weather turned to a rainy mix not conducive to burning, participants spent the next few days learning about the need for fire within the longleaf ecosystem, local ecology, weather monitoring and forecasts, smoke modeling, medical planning, operation of pumps and engines, firing techniques, and other topics both inside and outside of the classroom.

Four days later, the participants were able to burn another 102 acres of longleaf, as well as conduct pile burning on private lands to practice firefighting skills used to suppress wildfire. The following day, 258 acres were burned on three tracts owned by TNC and one tract owned privately.

Although the weather again hindered burning, morale remained high as classroom and other non-burning field training continued. On the last day of TREX, a small burn window allowed for one more acre of burning giving all of the participants the a chance to practice their skills at initial attack on several “wildfires.”

In total, approximately 525 acres of longleaf habitat were burned on both private and public lands. By many accounts, the most valuable aspects of the training were exposure to techniques, approaches and culture of fire programs from many different organizations and states as well as experiences in different fuel types.

The NC Chapter of The Nature Conservancy took the lead in coordinating logistics, planning and prepping burn units, and provided the Incident Commander, Mike Norris. “Despite the poor weather, we maximized the training opportunities on each burn by having solid plans, motivated participants, and well-coordinated operations at each prescribed fire,” Norris said. Based on how well this TREX went, he is already starting to make plans for another TREX in May 2017.