Prescribed Fire Southeast Region

Prescribed burns are ignited to reduce hazardous fuel loads near developed areas, manage landscapes, restore natural woodlands and for research purposes.

View the text version of the Prescribed Fire in the Southeast Region.

Prescribed Fire in the Southeast Region

Prescribed burns are ignited to reduce hazardous fuel loads near developed areas, manage landscapes, restore natural woodlands and for research purposes.

View the multimedia version of the Prescribed Fire in the Southeast Region. (Flash Required)

[ BIRDS CHIRPING ]

Noble: HISTORICALLY, A LOT
OF THE SOUTHEAST UNITED STATES

WAS DOMINATED
BY PINE COMMUNITIES LIKE THIS,

AND THE FREQUENCY OF FIRE

STARTED BY LIGHTNING
IN THOSE AREAS

OR NATIVE AMERICANS WAS ANYWHERE
BETWEEN TWO AND FIVE YEARS.

Nicholas:
WHEN WE STARTED BURNING IN '99,

THESE STANDS
WERE COMPLETELY OVERGROWN.

THEY BASICALLY HAD WAY TOO MUCH
STUFF GROWING IN THERE.

Loveland: THESE PLANTS
ARE REALLY FIRE-PRONE.

THEY'RE FIRE-DEPENDANT.

THEY OFF-GAS
A LOT OF VOLATILE COMPOUNDS.

Mendonca: FIRE IS ESSENTIALLY
RESETTING THE CLOCK.

IT'S PROVIDING NEW LIFE.

AND WE WANT TO GET
THAT MESSAGE OUT THERE

THAT THIS IS A GOOD THING
AND THIS IS WHY WE'RE DOING IT.

Narrator:
ON HISTORIC BATTLEFIELDS,

RIVER FLOODPLAINS,

AND MOUNTAIN FORESTS,

PRESCRIBED FIRE PLAYS
A VITAL ROLE IN NATIONAL PARKS

ACROSS THE SOUTHEAST.

IT'S AN EFFECTIVE WAY
TO PREVENT WILDFIRE

AND RESTORE NATURAL LANDSCAPES.

[ FIRE CRACKLING ]

[ WATER LAPPING ]

THIS IS THE STORY
OF ONE PRESCRIBED FIRE

AT GULF ISLANDS
NATIONAL SEASHORE, FLORIDA.

Nicholas:
IT IS DEFINITELY A CHALLENGE
TO BURN HERE AT GULF ISLANDS.

WE'RE ON A PENINSULA.

WE HAVE A LOT OF NEIGHBORS,
WHAT WE CALL URBAN INTERFACE.

Narrator:
LIKE MANY NATIONAL PARKS,

GULF ISLANDS NATIONAL SEASHORE

HAS A MAJOR HIGHWAY
RUNNING THROUGH IT.

IT TAKES SPECIAL EXPERTISE
TO BURN SAFELY HERE,

REPRODUCING THE EFFECTS
OF NATURAL FIRE.

Noble: IN A NATURALLY OCCURRING
FIRE AT THIS NORMAL FREQUENCY,

IT WOULD BE A SURFACE FIRE.

IT WOULD NOT BE WHAT SOME PEOPLE
FEAR IN PICTURES,

THESE LARGE CROWN FIRES THAT ARE
RAVAGING THROUGH THE LANDSCAPE.

IT'S A GENTLE FIRE MOVING ACROSS

WITH ONLY A FOOT OR TWO
HIGH FLAME LENGTHS.

Narrator:
THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

IS A LEADER
IN USING PRESCRIBED FIRE

TO RESTORE AND MAINTAIN
NATURAL CONDITIONS.

THE TEAM OF PARK SERVICE EXPERTS
WORKING ON THIS BURN

IS THE GREAT SMOKIES
WILDLAND FIRE MODULE.

FOR THIS SERIES OF BURNS,
I'LL BE THE BURN BOSS.

LET'S MOVE ON IN.

BASICALLY,
IT'S THE CONDUCTOR OR MANAGER.

I'VE GOT A NUMBER OF PEOPLE
THAT WORK FOR ME.

I'M GONNA BE DIRECTING
THE IGNITION SQUAD.

I'M TRYING TO TARGET
WHERE THE FIREFIGHTERS

ARE PUTTING FIRE ON THE GROUND.

WE HAVE INCENDIARY DEVICES
THAT ARE CALLED DRIP TORCHES.

IT'S ESSENTIALLY A LITTLE POT
OF DIESEL FUEL AND UNLEADED GAS.

WE'LL DRAG THAT THROUGH THE
FLAMMABLE FUELS AND IGNITE THEM.

Narrator: THE THIRD KEY MEMBER
OF THE TEAM IS THE HOLDING BOSS.

HIS JOB IS TO ENSURE
THE FIRE BURNS SAFELY.

Page: WE HAVE ALL TYPES
OF VEHICLES WITH WATER

TO PUT WATER ON THE FIRE.

AND THEN IF IT DOES
GET IN THE BRUSH,

WE HAVE CHAIN SAWS
AS FAR AS GETTING AFTER IT.

WE HAVE HAND TOOLS
TO SCRAPE AWAY THE SOIL.

Narrator:
FOR SEVERAL MONTHS, THE BURN
BOSS HAS BEEN WORKING CLOSELY

WITH THE PARK BIOLOGIST
AND FIRE MANAGEMENT OFFICER

ON THE BURN PLAN.

Loveland:
ON THURSDAY, WHAT WE'LL DO

IS WE'LL JUST START DOWN HERE
IN THIS CORNER

WITH THE NORTHWEST...
WE'LL JUST BRING IT UP, AROUND.

WE'LL DO THIS LOWER --
LOWER LOOP FIRST.

Narrator: BUT THEIR PLANS
HAVE BEEN HAMPERED THIS YEAR

BY HEAVIER-THAN-USUAL RAIN
CAUSED BY EL NIO.

SO WE'RE LOOKING AT ABOUT THREE
DAYS NOW SINCE WE'VE HAD RAIN,

AND I THINK WE'RE OPEN FOR ABOUT
AT LEAST FOUR OR FIVE MORE DAYS.

Narrator: OUT IN THE PARK,
CREWS ARE CUTTING UP DEAD TREES

AND STACKING THEM IN FINAL
PREPARATION FOR TOMORROW'S BURN.

ALL RIGHT, LET'S GATHER UP.

THANKS FOR EVERYBODY
COMING OUT TODAY.

WE'RE GONNA BURN NLO 10.

THAT'S A BURN UNIT THAT'S RIGHT
OVER BY HEADQUARTERS,

VISITOR'S CENTER AREA,
SOUTH OF HIGHWAY 98.

Narrator:
THE WEATHER FORECAST IS GOOD,

AND A NORTHWEST WIND WILL KEEP
SMOKE OFF THE HIGHWAY.

BUT THERE'S ONE CONCERN.

CONDITIONS HAVE GOTTEN VERY DRY.

RELATIVE HUMIDITY'S DOWN
TO JUST 32%.

THE BURN CAN PROCEED
BUT UNDER A RED-FLAG WARNING.

SO THAT SHOULD BE
A LITTLE WATCHOUT SITUATION

FOR EVERYBODY OUT THERE TODAY.

JUST KEEP AN EYE ON THINGS.

BE COGNIZANT OF WHAT'S
HAPPENING WITH THE FIRE
ON THE GROUND OUT THERE.

Narrator: AS THEY HEAD OUT,
EVERYONE ON THE TEAM KNOWS

THAT SAFETY IS NOW
THE NUMBER-ONE PRIORITY.

[ FIRE CRACKLING ]

TWO MEMBERS OF
THE IGNITION SQUAD SET THE FIRE.

BURN BOSS, FIRING.
WE GOT FIRE ON THE GROUND.

FOR THE BEGINNING
OF AN OPERATION,

WE'LL BEGIN WITH ANCHORING
INTO AN AREA

WHICH HAS
THE LEAST FUELS POSSIBLE

SO THAT IT'S EASILY DEFENDABLE

FOR OUR FIREFIGHTERS
TO GET FIRE IN.

WE DON'T HAVE
TO WORRY ABOUT FIRE

ESCAPING THE BURN PERIMETER.

Narrator:
AS A PRECAUTION, THE HOLDING
SQUAD HOSES DOWN A "JACKPOT" --

A PILE OF DEAD TREES
THAT COULD CAUSE A BIG BLAZE.

Mendonca:
JUST GET ONE TORCH OUT THERE,

LIGHT A LITTLE BIT
OF THAT PALMETTO,

THEN WE'LL LIGHT THIS
AND BUMP AROUND.

Narrator: THE TEAM MOVES INLAND
AND INTO THE WIND.

THEY IGNITE THE BRUSH
IN AN AREA OF OAK FOREST.

IT'S MOSTLY SHADED
AND DAMP HERE.

YEAH, THIS ISN'T REALLY GONNA
DO MUCH.

IT'S KIND OF WHAT I EXPECTED.

BUT AS WE PROGRESS, WE'LL BE IN
SOME MORE RECEPTIVE FUELS

SUCH AS YOU SEE BEHIND ME HERE,

AND WE'LL HAVE
HIGHER FIRE INTENSITY

AND HIGHER FIRE BEHAVIOR.

Narrator:
THE BURN BOSS AND FIRING BOSS

KEEP A SHARP EYE ON WHICH WAY
THE SMOKE IS BLOWING.

IT'S GETTING A SOUTHERLY.

Loveland: IT'S JUST GOING UP
AND THEN HEADING OFF.

REALLY JUST SPINNING
OFF TO THE SOUTH.

Narrator: AS THE PRESCRIBED
BURN TEAM REACHES THE HIGHWAY,

THEY FACE THEIR FIRST BIG TEST.

THE MAJOR THING HERE IS SMOKE,

BECAUSE WE HAVE MAJOR HIGHWAYS

WITH PEOPLE DRIVING
65 MILES AN HOUR BY.

LOT OF TIMES THESE PEOPLE
LIKE TO LOOK,

AND THEY'RE NOT LOOKING
AT THE ROAD AHEAD OF THEM.

Narrator:
BUT THE WIND IS HOLDING STEADY,

BLOWING THE SMOKE
AWAY FROM THE TRAFFIC.

AND THE WARMING TEMPERATURE

IS MAKING THE VEGETATION
BURN BETTER.

IT'S JUST REALLY THICK
AND BUILT UP.

IT'S LIKE A BIG HEDGEROW.

THIS FIRE HERE IS CONSUMING
ALL THAT DOWN,

AND IT'LL REALLY OPEN UP
THE VISTA HERE.

IT'S GOING GOOD.

NOT ON THE HIGHWAY,
SO THAT'S GOOD.

Narrator:
BY LATE MORNING, BURNING
CONDITIONS ARE NEARLY IDEAL.

THE BURN TEAM IS ANXIOUS
TO MAKE THE MOST OF THEM

AS THEY APPROACH
THEIR NEXT CHALLENGE.

Loveland:
THIS IS A PUBLIC PICNIC AREA

THAT WAS REALLY IMPACTED

BY PROBABLY FOUR
TROPICAL STORMS, HURRICANES.

AND SO THERE'S A LOT OF DEAD
AND DOWNED TREES.

IT'S REALLY OVERGROWN.

Narrator: AND THERE'S
ANOTHER COMPLICATION.

IN THE MIDDLE
ARE SEVERAL PARK STRUCTURES.

THE HOLDING CREW CLEARS AWAY
VEGETATION THAT'S CLOSE BY.

VEHICLES CARRYING WATER
MOVE INTO POSITION.

THE LOCAL FIRE TRUCK'S
HEAVY-GAUGE HOSE IS ROLLED OUT.

Mendonca:
IN THAT PARTICULAR ENVIRONMENT,

WE TEND TO ERR
ON THE SIDE OF CAUTION.

ONCE WE'RE BRINGING FIRE
TO THOSE RESOURCES AT RISK,

WE'LL USE, LOTS OF TIMES, WATER
WHICH IS CALLED PRETREATMENT.

WE'LL SPRAY THE AREAS WHERE --
ARE POTENTIAL TO GET EMBERS INTO

THAT COULD POSSIBLY BE
IGNITION STARTS.

Narrator:
NOW IT'S UP TO THE HOLDING TEAM
TO KEEP THE BLAZE AT BAY,

HOWEVER HOT IT GETS.

THEY KEEP A CONSTANT LOOKOUT
FOR RUNAWAY FLAMES.

FOR THE IGNITION SQUAD,

IT'S TIME TO REFUEL
THEIR DRIP TORCHES.

Noble:
IT'S STARTING TO PICK UP.

THE WIND'S COMING UP
A LITTLE BIT.

THE HUMIDITY'S GOING DOWN.

YOU NOTICE THE FIRE BEHAVIOR'S
INCREASING.

Narrator:
BUT IF THE WIND PICKS UP TOO
MUCH, THAT COULD BE A PROBLEM,

AS THEY IGNITE A STRIP
OF PINE FOREST

RUNNING UP
TO THE VISITOR'S CENTER.

Mendonca: AS THE LANDMASS HEATS
UP, THE LANDMASS WILL SUCK AIR

FROM THE OCEAN OR THE GULF,
IF YOU WILL,

AND IT CREATES A SEA BREEZE.

Narrator:
A STRONG SEA BREEZE

PUTS MORE THAN A FEW
PARK STREETLIGHTS AT RISK.

IT COULD PUSH THE SMOKE INLAND
OVER THE HIGHWAY.

SMOKE'S COMING BACK IN
A LITTLE BIT.

WIND'S COMING
OFF THE WATER RIGHT NOW,

BUT IT'S STILL GOING UP
AND THEN OUT TO THE SOUTH,

WITCH IS RIGHT WHERE WE WANT IT
TO GO, SO THAT'S GOOD.

Narrator: DOWN ON THE BEACH,
THE FIRING BOSS

PREPARES FOR THE FINAL PUSH
TOWARD THE VISITOR'S CENTER.

Mendonca: ACTUALLY,
LET'S KEEP YOU GUYS PARALLEL.

ALL PARALLEL MOVING
THAT DIRECTION.

Narrator:
THE IGNITION SQUAD GOES TO WORK.

BUT AS THEY DO,

THE FIRING BOSS GETS THE CALL
HE'S TRAINED TO EXPECT.

Mendonca: SAY AGAIN.

LOVELAND: That wind direction
is really settling in

off the sound there.

WE MAY HAVE TO CALL IT
AFTER THIS NEXT SECTION

AND NOT BURN THAT LAST ONE.

IF THIS KEEPS UP, WE'LL BE
PUTTING SMOKE ON THE ROAD.

Narrator:
THE STRENGTHENING SEA BREEZE

FORCES THE TEAM TO SHUT DOWN
THEIR PRESCRIBED BURN EARLY

AT GULF ISLANDS
NATIONAL SEASHORE.

BUT THEY REMAIN ON ALERT
UNTIL THE LAST FLAMES DIE DOWN.

Loveland: THE PINELANDS
HAD NEVER BEEN BURNED BEFORE

AND WERE REALLY OVERGROWN.

THAT AREA BURNED REALLY WELL.

UNFORTUNATELY,
THE SEA BREEZES KICKED IN

AND IT SHUT US DOWN
BEFORE WE INTENDED TO FINISH.

WE STILL HAVE MAYBE 10 ACRES
OF PINES THAT WE'D LIKE TO BURN

AT SOME POINT AS SOON AS WE
GET THE RIGHT CONDITIONS AGAIN.

Narrator:
IN THE BLACKENED, STILL
SMOLDERING AREAS OF THE PARK,

THERE'S NO SIGN YET OF THE
BENEFITS THE FLAMES WILL BRING.

BUT TO THE TRAINED EYE
OF AN ECOLOGIST,

THE NEW GROWTH THAT WILL
SHORTLY SPRING FROM THE ASHES

IS NO MYSTERY.

THE EVIDENCE IS CLOSE BY.

Noble: SO, HOW LONG HAS IT BEEN
SINCE YOU BURNED THIS AREA?

Nicholas:
WE DID THIS ONE BACK IN '07.

AND WE'RE LOOKING TO DO IT AGAIN
HERE THIS YEAR.

Noble: THIS LOOKS GREAT BECAUSE
WHAT WE WERE SHOOTING FOR

IS TO KILL SOME OF THE OAKS,

YOU KNOW,
KNOCK BACK THE OAK SAPLINGS

AND PROMOTE THE NATIVE GRASSES,
AND IT'S DOING EXACTLY THAT.

Narrator: IN JUST THREE YEARS,
THIS SECTION OF THE PARK

HAS BEEN COMPLETELY REVITALIZED
BY FIRE.

Noble: THIS OPEN UNDERSTORY
IS GONNA BE GREAT

FOR NOT ONLY
THE GOPHER TORTOISE,

BUT A LOT OF THE SONGBIRDS
IN THIS AREA.

Nicholas: I THINK THE HABI--
YOU KNOW, HABITAT-WISE,

IT'S LOOKING REALLY GOOD,

AND, YOU KNOW, IF THERE'S EVER
A WILDFIRE IN HERE,

IT'S JUST GONNA BE
A LOT MORE MANAGEABLE.

Narrator:
PRESCRIBED FIRE IS THE KEY

TO KEEPING THE NATIONAL PARKS
OF THE SOUTHEAST

ALIVE AND WELL.