National Forest Service Ranger explains the purpose of recent prescribed burns

Published: Apr. 7, 2021 at 9:27 PM EDT
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PAGE COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - Over the past few days, there have been several prescribed burns at Shenandoah National Park and the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.

On Monday and Tuesday, people around the Shenandoah Valley saw smoke clouds for miles from a 3,578-acre burn area in the Cub Run area of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.

District Ranger Mary Yonce with the National Forest Service said this usually happens every spring, but these burns have benefits.

In the right place at the right time, wildland fires can have environmental benefits, like reducing leaves and trees from the forest floor. Down the line, this debris could cause much bigger and more severe wildfires. Prescribed burns can also improve wildlife habitat.

“The fire can remove some of the underbrush and create more light on the forest floor that creates a flush of growth for animals,” Yonce said.

Before igniting a burn, wind and relative humidity are two big factors to consider, Yonce said. Circumstances like inclement weather, wind direction, and holidays could impact whether the burns happen or not.

“We had really good burning conditions on Easter Sunday but we chose to postpone that because a lot of people enjoy outdoor activities on Easter,” Yonce said.

While large smoke clouds were spotted, burn marks are only a few feet high on tree trunks.

“Just small bushes and leaf litter have been consumed by the fire, so we would not expect great high flame lengths,” Yonce said.

The nearly 3,600-acre burn area in the Cub Run area was monitored by a team of nearly 40 firefighters on the ground and in the air, as well as support staff monitoring radio and aerial operations.

“We look at them from an operational standpoint of where can we safely put in containment lines and use of natural features like roads and creeks,” Yonce said.

In some cases, Yonce said they will close down roads to ensure the publics’ safety while a burn is active.

The ash leftover now makes the forest floor resemble a bit of a moonscape, which will enrich the soil creating growth, greenery, and flowers rather quickly, Yonce said.

For more information on wildland fires, click here.

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