To Burn or… …Not To Burn

There was a very high chance of fire at two locations on the Allegheny National Forest this weekend.

In fact, the chance was 100 percent.

U.S. Forest Service agents from the ANF, State College, Ohio, Illinois, and West Virginia participated in prescribed burns of 157 acres near the upper reservoir on Friday and 93 acres south of Hearts Content on Saturday.

The crew included 15 Forest Service agents, most of them local. The others were invited for their expertise. “They had certain qualifications that we needed in the burn organization,” ANF Fire Management Officer Peter To.

In preparation, the workers cut control lines down to bare soil around the prescribed area with leaf blowers and rakes.

Conditions on the forest were very dry at the time of the burns and fire danger was high.

Team members were ready to knock down areas that got too hot by using water delivered from backpacks. Extra water was carried to the agents by utility vehicles. Some team members suffered symptoms of dehydration due to high temperatures inside the burn, To said, but those workers are “fine”.

Because of the dry conditions, an airplane provided aerial surveillance of the burn.

The conditions and the weather allowed the ANF to utilize the personnel available for both burns. “It was one of these days we had the weather, we had the group, we could do back-to-back burns,” To said.

The fire did not escape the control lines. Calls were made to Warren County Control regarding fires, but those were inside the prescribed area and stayed there.

That is typical.

“It’s common when we do a controlled burn, we’ll secure it and then leave,” To said. “That doesn’t mean it’s going to be 100 percent out.”

Members of the team will continue to monitor the burn areas.

“Until we get some rain, we’re going to have crews check each burn,” To said.

The goal of the burns was to encourage the growth of oak trees, To said.

“We do prescribed burns so we can reduce the wooden vegetation and allow the favored tree species like oak to gain a foothold,” To said. “We’re focusing on ferns, trying to eliminate leaf litter, beech and maple.”

The fire kills off the young of the less-desirable species and does not harm the oak.

“Oak is a fire dependent species,” To said. “They have extra reserves inside to resprout after a burn. Some of the other species don’t have the ability to do that.”

On the ANF, the Land of Many Uses, oak is valued.

“Oak is a very favored tree, it’s beneficial to wildlife” and the timber industry, he said.

The areas were chosen based on the likelihood that oak would be the predominant species after the burns.

“During our inventories, these areas were selected due to existing oak seedlings,” To said. “We also looked at acorn production from last fall.”

Past burns have proven successful and the practice will continue. “This is something that we’re hoping to do continuously,” To said.