Controlled burns are central to managing the Talladega National Forest. Burns clear the forest’s understory of brushy hardwoods, reduce potential fuel for wildfires and manage habitat for endangered species, such as the red-cockaded woodpecker.
About 2,000 acres have already been burned this year in the Shoal Creek District, said Karen McKenzie, district ranger. More burns are scheduled for next week.
“What we’re achieving when we go out there and burn is not just one thing but two or three things,” McKenzie said. “More bang for our buck, so to speak.”
One thing the U.S. Forest Service is emphasizing this year is controlled burns where houses run up on forest land, said Joe Smith, Shoal Creek district assistant fire management officer.
People tend to tamp down fires where they live. While that allows for a safe place to live, it also allows flammable leaves, twigs and dead trees to build up. Burning off that wildfire fuel makes places where forest and people intersect safer in the event of a naturally-occurring wildfire, Smith said.
A checklist of everything from weather forecasts and equipment to public notifications and gut feelings must be cleared before a burn starts, Smith said. He typically starts running through the list at 7 a.m. for a mid-morning burn. A burn was scrapped Wednesday because weather conditions weren’t just right, he said.
Burns are planned months, even years in advance, McKenzie explained.
“We don’t just go out there the day of the burn and set fire to the woods,” McKenzie said. “Nobody can completely control Mother Nature, but we do have the ability … to keep that fire controlled as best you as you can control a natural element.”
Contact staff writer Jason Bacaj at 256-235-3546