Over the past several years, I am sure you have seen news of wildfires sweeping across the western part of the United States, especially California. What you probably haven’t seen is news stories covering Georgia wildfires. You haven’t seen news about Georgia wildfires because our state prioritizes prescribed burning, preventing many conditions that cause wildfires to start. Prescribed burning plays a massive part in the safety of Georgia’s forests, while many states out west limit prescribed burning and face wildfire seasons that seem to get more dangerous each year.
What is prescribed burning or prescribed fire?
Prescribed burning is setting a fire (typically in a forest or wooded area) for a deliberate purpose by individuals who have been trained in this practice. Prescribed burning is a safe way to reduce wildfire risks and ensure the health of an ecosystem. Before conducting a prescribed burn, a landowner should have a written prescribed burn plan drafted and must acquire a burn permit from the Georgia Forestry Commission.
What are prescribed burn plans and burn permits?
A prescribed burn plan includes the objectives for the burn and the “prescription” for the property (the plan for changing the site to meet the site management goals). A burn plan should include a map of the tract showing the firebreaks; boundaries of the area to be burned; adjacent landowners; the topography of the area to be burned; and the anticipated direction of smoke from the burn, among other requirements. The burn plan must also include the fuels and burning techniques being used. For more information on burn permits, visit the Georgia Forestry Commission’s website.
The Georgia Forestry Commission foresters can assist landowners in evaluating the piece of property to be burned, including writing a prescribed burn plan. Any certified prescribed burner can also prepare a prescribed burn plan in Georgia. If a GFC forester assists in a prescribed burn, a fee applies, and the landowner must sign a prescribed burning agreement. GFC services can include preparation of the plan, loan of equipment, and assistance on site. Constraints such as personnel and wildfire suppression can limit the availability of these services.
When can a prescribed burn be performed?
The Georgia Environmental Protection Department implements a yearly burn ban on most types of burning from May 1 through September 30 in 54 Georgia counties. During this time of year, increases in ground-level ozone create increased risks for burning, but exceptions do exist for some areas. There are additional counties that completely prohibit prescribed burning during this time as well.
A prescribed burn permit is only for the date that they are issued. If a burn takes place on a date other than the date on the burn permit, notices can be issued to the landowner, and suppression charges can apply if the burn causes a wildfire.
Why are prescribed burns performed?
Landowners can perform prescribed burns for many reasons! One of the most important reasons is to reduce the likelihood of wildfires. Over the course of 5 to 6 years, combustible materials like pine straw and downed branches can build up in forested areas. A prescribed burn is a practical way to reduce this buildup under trees. Studies have shown that wildfires that burn into areas that have undergone prescribed burns typically cause less damage and are easier to control.
Prescribed burns can also be useful for seeding and planting pines. When used on an open site, prescribed burns can expose adequate minerals in the soil and control competing vegetation until the seedlings become well-established. Prescribed burns can also improve wildlife habitats, manage competing vegetation, and control insects and disease.
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Jon Burns represents District 159 in the Georgia General Assembly, where he serves as the House majority leader.