Fire managers Rachel Jean and Luke Wilson apply prescribed fire with a UTV along a roadway, which serves to contain the burn to the area intended. Other fire crew and fire engines stand nearby to monitor the fire behavior. Photo-USFS

(Gainesville) — On Tuesday the Blue Ridge Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service conducted a prescribed fire operation to improve wildlife habitat, enhance forest health, and remove hazardous fuels such as leaf litter, dead vegetation, and debris. The 35-acre Satterfield prescribed burn was located approximately 3 miles east of Blairsville.

The prescribed fire was conducted to restore native grasses and improve pollinator habitat. The fire was the first in what will be a series of prescribed burns across the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in what the forest service described as an effort to provide habitat for thousands of species across 26 counties in North and Central Georgia, including 29 threatened or endangered wildlife and plant species, with many more considered sensitive and locally rare.

The forest service said in a news release Monday that they and numerous partners are planning to apply prescribed fire to more than 35,000 acres across the National Forest. Burning will occur between now and May, with additional operations possible in late autumn.

“Safety is our primary concern during prescribed fire operations,” said Mike Davis, Fire Management Officer for the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. He added, “Forest Service fire managers are highly trained in protecting nearby communities, themselves, and the land that is being restored.”

Experienced fire specialists will closely monitor local weather conditions, such as wind and humidity, and adjust the schedule as needed to ensure the safety of both prescribed fire managers and local residents. Prior to beginning burn operations, crews construct and designate firebreaks to ensure the fire does not leave the burn area.

Because fire shaped southern landscapes for thousands of years, today’s forests need fire to stay healthy. The burn seeks to mimic natural fire as much as possible, using different firing patterns to create a mosaic burn pattern that includes unburned areas as well. This creates a diversity of habitat conditions needed for many different types of plants and animals.

In addition to ecological benefits, prescribed fire can benefit the community by reducing the risk of severe wildfires in the future and maintaining scenic vistas important for recreation and tourism. Much of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest is within the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), where wildfire risk from hazardous fuels threatens communities and homes. Prescribed fire treatments can reduce this risk. Residents and communities can also help to reduce this risk by becoming Firewise to protect homes and neighborhoods.