Professional Land Managers
Setting the Longleaf Pine Forest on Fire
(bolded words in text indicate key words
Similar to how your doctor writes you a prescription to take care
of a cold, land managers write a prescription to help heal the land.
For the longleaf pine forest, fire is the common cure for illness.
Fire is to the longleaf pine forest like rain is to rainforest or
tides are to salt marshes. Take away fire and the longleaf pine
forest will die.
Historically, the longleaf pine ecosystem was maintained by frequent,
yet low intensity fires, which burned every 3 to 10 years. Fires
started by lightning, Native Americans, and (more recently) Euro-American
settlers molded a longleaf pine forest comprised of fire tolerant
plant and animal species. In this condition, the longleaf forest
is considered a fire climax community.
In the late 1800's and early 1900's, new land uses caused the forest
to change. Logging, roads, and farm fields broke up the continuity
of the natural forest which carried fire. By the mid-20th century
people following the advice of Smokey Bear
began to actively put out fires.
Over time, the forest industry would come to understand the importance
of fire in maintaining the longleaf pine ecosystem. For it is not
a question if the south's forests will burn but a question of when
they will burn. Through fire suppression, frequency of fire was
being substituted for intensity, i.e., frequent, low-intensity fires
versus infrequent, catastrophic wildfires.
Today, fires set by managers (called prescribed
fires) are used in the longleaf pine forest as a low
cost way to benefit certain wildlife and plants, increase scenery,
assist in nutrient cycling,
and reduce the threat of large destructive wildfires in the future.
However, these fire managers are not merely going out into the woods
and dropping a match. A prescribed burn is so named because land
managers first write a "prescription" of criteria that
must be met before ANY burning can be done. The parameters of this
prescription include weather, fuel types (e.g., live and dead vegetation)
and amount, nearby manmade structures and topography. Land managers
are systematically reintroducing fire into the landscape using carefully
planned prescribed fires. Those individuals who do not follow this
rigid protocol in using fire are called arsonists.
The silver hand held "drip-torches" contain a mixture
of gasoline and diesel fuel. This mixture allows the burner to lay
down a line of fire on the ground. The yellow shirts and green pants
are standard issue Nomex (fire-retardant) clothing. Goggles safeguard
eyes from flying ashes, plastic hard-hats protect the head from
falling branches, and leather gloves and boots protect the hands
and feet from heat. The small packs attached to the belt are heat
resistant fire shelters. In the rare event that a person becomes
trapped by flames, he/she would deploy their shelter climb inside
and allow the fire to blow over the top of them. The bottom left
of the drawing shows part of a "fire
break". A fire break is a plowed line around the
area being burned. Plowing removes grasses, trees (i.e., fuel) that
would otherwise allow the fire to continue to burn. The direction
of the smoke indicates that the wind is pushing the flames. When
a fire moves with the wind it is called a headfire. A fire pushing
against the wind moves slowly and is called a backfire.
Key Words and Concepts (click
on for glossary definition): arsonist,
fire break, fire
nutrient cycling, prescribed