|The Natural Role of Fire
Forest lands constitute significant economic, biological and aesthetic resources of statewide importance. Frequent fires, set by lightning strikes and Native Americans, have shaped Georgia’s ecosystems for thousands of years.
Our forest ecosystems evolved with fire and continue to need the strategic application of fire that mimics this natural cycle. The plants and animals of the pine woods are accustomed to frequent fires and depend on these fires for their survival. Fire is as natural as sunshine, rain and wind in many plant communities including upland pine, pine flatwoods, marshes and wet prairies. Fire also benefits many of the rare animal species in our state that are declining. Some of these declines are caused almost totally by fire exclusion. Frequent fires prevent the build-up of flammable fuels in the forest that set the stage for destructive wildfires when ignition does occur.
Prescribed burning is carried out by experienced, trained, and certified land managers on both public and private lands throughout Georgia. These professionals assess forest conditions, determine the type of fire needed, and then write a “prescription” for the application of fire. Prescribed burns are permitted by the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC) District Offices depending upon predicted weather conditions and safety measures to be used. GFC also offers a Certified Burner Manager Program that serves to enhance the skills of land managers, and acquaint burners with regulations and offer opportunities for more advanced training.
Smoke from prescribed fires is a sign that certain lands are being cared for properly. Great care is taken by prescribed fire managers to minimize any temporary inconveniences created by smoke. Smoke management plans for prescribed burns are designed so that smoke-sensitive areas like roads and residences, etc. are not negatively affected by the burn.
Smoke from prescribed fires does not contribute appreciably to air quality issues since the practice typically avoids times of stagnant summer air. However, uncontrolled wildfires usually occur during the summer when there is already a bad urban air quality problem. We can reduce the risk of wildfires and the resulting smoke or air quality problems with well-timed prescribed fires. No other tool can so effectively remove the hazardous buildup of woodland fuels.