State plans controlled burns at Upstate parks to prevent wildfires

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In November, areas within Table Rock State Park were scorched by a wildfire that had spread from nearby Pinnacle Mountain. Now, the state plans to conduct a controlled burn at the park to prevent future wildfires. (Photo by David Ellis)

After Pinnacle Mountain fire, officials monitor county water supply

Forestry commission urges care in burning

The Beautiful Places Alliance, a Columbia-based nonprofit, has been awarded $35,000 from the Duke Energy Foundation to help the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism conduct controlled burns at several state parks in the Upstate.

“These parks have seen 75 years of fire suppression with years of accumulated combustible fuels,” said Duane Parrish, director of the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism. “Controlled burns help us remain committed to the stewardship of our natural communities and the service we provide to park visitors.”

The burns will be conducted sometime this winter or early spring by state and federal fire crews, according to Dawn Dawson, director of corporate communications for the South Carolina Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department.

Controlled burns will be conducted at these state parks: 

 

“The recent fires across the Western Carolinas showed just how important it is to reduce the fuels that can feed these dangerous, unplanned events. Reintroducing fire back to Upstate parks will help restore the land to a more natural, sustainable and predictable environment,” said Linda Hannon, government and community relations manager for Duke Energy.

Since October, drought has caused more than 150,000 acres to burn throughout the Appalachians, according to the U.S. Forest Service. In December, after months of firefights, South Carolina’s Forestry Commission announced that fire crews had finally contained the Pinnacle Mountain fire, which burned more than 10,000 acres across Pickens County.

Crews used controlled burns to prevent the fire from spreading. According to the Forest Service, controlled burns reduce the chance of a wildfire by removing understory brush that can go up in flames during drought.

In December, the S.C. Drought Response Committee updated drought statuses for 11 counties. Upstate counties, including Anderson, Oconee and Pickens, remained in severe drought status. The current drought conditions are the worst in the Upstate since 2012, according to Hope Mizzell, a climatologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

During the controlled burns, specialists plan to closely monitor wind, temperature and humidity, and reschedule the burns if the conditions could enhance the fire or spread smoke to nearby cities, according to Dawson. Before igniting the burns, crews plan to construct firebreaks that ensure the fire doesn’t leave the designated areas.

The controlled burns should mimic natural wildfires, which means trails and roads in or around the parks could be closed. Any closures will be temporary and clearly posted for the public. However, because the scheduling of controlled burns is dependent on weather conditions, advance notice will only be provided to local fire and law enforcement officials.

Once the burns are completed, the affected areas will look barren. However, the areas should recover within a few days or weeks as nutrients from the dead trees and brush will act as fertilizer, according to Dawson. 

For more information, visit trees.sc.gov.

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