Fires a real threat in South Carolina

  • Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Televised images of roaring infernos devastating forests and destroying entire communities in western states have been unsettling. Having experienced frightening grass fires, I cannot imagine the terror of landowners facing the recent mega-fires.
Because super fires are becoming more common, the American Forest Foundation just devoted a large section of its new magazine, “Woodland,” to this topic.
Author Gisela Telis wrote, “Across the country, thousands of forest managers and woodland owners are coping with the aftermath of wildfires that burn hotter, faster and longer than ever before.”
While low-intensity fire is a natural occurrence that eliminates the build-up of undergrowth “fuel” and actually improves the viability of certain forest ecosystems, superfires simply destroy.
Forest ecologist Peter Fule said, “Large, high-severity fires burn through the whole tree and deep into the soil, making it harder for the forest to regenerate…”
This kind of fire can “sterilize the soil and leave the area vulnerable to floods and landslides,” he said.
The increase in these raging, out-of-control disasters is blamed first on the former century-long practice of fire suppression that has resulted in massive understory fuel build-up. Secondly, changing climate patterns have brought prolonged droughts, drying the understory to tinderbox conditions.
Although July’s major fires were in Colorado and points west, David Frederick, fire director for the Southern Group of State Foresters, said that the South “now has more fires than any other part of the country (with fires) in the Carolinas that burn three to four feet down into the soil.”
Private woodland owners can play an important role in reducing the threat of runaway wildfires. Thinning forested land and administering prescribed burns greatly reduce available fuel. Maintaining firebreaks and forest roads to permit quick access by firefighters is critical. Keeping trees healthy by promptly addressing pest and disease issues will greatly improve their survivability.
To learn more about protecting your land and community from the kind of fiery devastation we have been witnessing, go to www.mylandplan.org/wildfire. Another website, www.firewise.org, offers valuable tips for fireproofing your home.
Joanna Angle is a Master Tree Farmer and 2012 South Carolina Tree Farmer of the Year.

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