Authored by Brannon Knight
Fire Season 2016 is currently in full swing for our fire team. It has been a busy couple of months for us, as we have traveled all over southeast Georgia. Starting in January, burning was definitely our top priority for the land management program, and we have done our best to spend as much time on the fireline as possible. We hired two seasonal fire technicians this year, and they have played a crucial part in helping us put fire on the ground. We currently have burned about 4,050 acres so far this year, and we still have quite a bit more to do. We are planning to burn through July, as long as there is enough moisture to safely conduct operations and mitigate compromising objectives.
We have had many accomplishments this year, but it has also been a challenging one as it’s been another El Nino year, similar to 2015. El Nino typically means cooler temperatures and above-average rainfall for our region. We were successful at some re-entry burns, but it can be difficult to burn flatwoods or wet savannah and we have a lot of these habitats scheduled to burn this year. A lot of these units, up until recently, had residual surface water from earlier rain events. It makes it hard to burn when most of your units have water covering them. It can be discouraging when you can’t get a happy medium, and the next thing you know a week has slipped by without putting fire on the ground. All you can do is catch up on other projects, rehab fire equipment and wait for it to dry up.
Although the earlier part of this year has been wet, we are just now getting into the heart of the natural fire season, and fuels are drying up, which has allowed us to get some awesome burning in. Burning during this time of the year is the opposite from burning during the dormant season. Fire behavior is completely different, and the fire effects are priceless. For someone in the field of restoration—well, for me at least—it is equivalent to stepping up to the plate and hitting a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth to win the World Series. It is truly amazing what happens when fire is applied the way Mother Nature intended it to occur on the landscape.
Some people believe that fire seasonality is not as important as fire frequency; however, from my experience, I would have to disagree. Yes, fire frequency is very important, but I cannot say it should be placed above seasonality in order of importance. I could go on and on about the reasons why this is, but that is not the subject matter of this article—I would probably have to replace my keyboard because it would be worn out afterwards! I challenge anyone who has not had the opportunity to see the power of fire seasonality firsthand to stop by the Orianne Indigo Snake Preserve if you are in our neck of the woods; I would love to show you. It is important for people to understand this because, in return, it will directly or indirectly allow more fire to be put on the ground during this magical time. If our “MO” or interest is the flora and fauna found within this fire-dependent region, then fire has to be a part of the process and, more importantly, has to be applied during the natural fire season. It is worth mentioning that there is a time and place for everything, and not all prescriptions allow for burning during this time of year. It may take years to gradually reintroduce fire before growing season burning is appropriate, but at some point, it needs to be in the plan.
There is still plenty of great burning left to do. We also have several other projects we are working on, such as invasive treatment on groundcover restoration sites. It can be a hard task this time of year because the same time we need to be burning is when a lot of the chemical treatment needs to be done. It truly is a balancing act, but at the end of the day, fire is always the priority.