Prescribed burn on up to 2,859 acres planned in West Virginia's Monongahela National Forest this fall; projects include completion of 1,081-acre burn, first phase of 958-acre Hopkins Knob Burn in Greenbrier County

ELKINS, West Virginia , October 28, 2013 (press release) – USDA Monongahela National Forest specialists plan to burn up to 2,859 acres this fall if weather conditions are favorable.

The Peach Orchard Burn is located in Greenbrier County, just north of the Blue Bend Recreation area. The entire burn is 1,081 acres in size. Eight hundred and nineteen acres were burned last spring. The remaining 262 acres are planned for this fall. This area was burned in the fall of 2010 and this will be the second of two burns planned for the unit within a five year period.

The Hopkins Knob Burn is located in Greenbrier County, just north of the Blue Bend Recreation area. The burn is 958 acres in size. This will be the first of 2 planned burns for the area over the next 5 years.

The Chestnut Ridge Burn is located in Pocahontas County, just east of Green Bank. The burn is 1,625 acres and was burned in the spring and fall of 2010 and this will be the second of two burns planned for the unit within a five year period.

The 6 acre Shock Run Savannah burn in Pocahontas County near Frost and the 8 acre Cheat Summit Fort burn in Randolph County, involve burning open field to reduce trees and brush.

Fire has a long history of transforming landscapes by influencing vegetation. Lightning-caused fires are uncommon in the Appalachians, but Native Americans intentionally set fires for thousands of years. They burned to help open the forest understory, which increased plant diversity, improved browse for wildlife, and made travelling easier. As a result, most current forest communities have been shaped by previous fires. Early European settlers continued to use fire as a tool to shape their surroundings. They used fire to clear land and saw that occasional fires kept ridge tops open and sunny, which increased wild blueberry crops and also provided benefits for grazing livestock. However, as time went on and human populations began to increase, fires began to be seen as destructive and state and federal agencies were created to promote fire suppression. Over time, this exclusion of fire has led to a dramatic change in our forests.

Most of today’s forests have a dense understory, less plant diversity, and are composed largely of fire intolerant tree species like striped maple. This change in vegetation has in turn caused decrease in species diversity with a shift in wildlife species favoring those that tolerate closed canopy forest.

“Land managers now recognize that fire used in controlled situations can promote healthy natural systems. A series of low intensity fires can thin crowded forests, resulting in less severe disease and pest outbreaks. Fire promotes native grasses and wildflowers and helps to regenerate oaks, which in turn increases wildlife populations. Controlled burns also reduce leaf litter and woody fuels that increase wildfire intensity,” said Rondi Fischer, Marlinton/White Sulphur District Ranger.

According to Fischer, “fire, in the right place at the right time, is a land management tool that can offer numerous benefits for wildlife. Historical records also indicate some plants and animals difficult to find in the Appalachians today were once commonly found. When fire is reintroduced, plants sometimes reappear where they have not been recorded in decades. Evidence shows a great many plant and animal species respond favorably in a fire-mediated habitat. The controlled use of fire, under the direction of skilled resource managers, promotes a diversity of wildlife and healthy forests.”

According to Peter Fischer, fire management officer for the Monongahela National Forest, "The actual timing of the burns will be determined by the temperature, wind and humidity on a given day. That is why it is difficult to say on exactly which days the Forest Service plans to burn."

Local radio stations will be alerted to the burn activities prior to their initiation. Local residents and travelers through the area should be aware of the likelihood of heavy smoke emanating from these burn areas. Forest Roads 296 and 139 near Blue Bend and Hopkins Mountain may be closed on the day of the Peach Orchard burn for public and firefighter safety.

Highly trained prescribed fire specialists set parameters for successful controlled burns. These prescriptions take into account many complex factors, such as weather conditions, fuel conditions, topography and available firefighting resources. Public and firefighter safety is always the top priority.

"Our goal is to accomplish the prescribed burns safely," Peter Fischer said.

Firefighters and a variety of firefighting equipment are positioned in advance of any fire ignition. During and after burning, the areas will be monitored by firefighters to ensure the fire does not escape and that all fires are completely extinguished.

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