Cathy Dyson writes about King George County.
Controlled burn yields several benefits
As they walked through the pine trees wearing yellow fire jackets and carrying silver drip torches, the foresters weren’t exactly fooling Mother Nature.
They were just helping her along, by bringing about the natural rejuvenating process that comes with a fire.
Three representatives of the Virginia Department of Forestry came together in the woods of King George County Monday morning for a controlled burn.
Property owner Derek Wasser wanted to clear out the underbrush among his pines, so he consulted Forester Karen Snape, who came up with a plan.
“We waited a long time to get a good day, and it turned out to be a perfect day,” Wasser said.
Monday’s weather included a slight breeze, lower humidity in the morning and the chance of rain by evening. The ground wasn’t too dry to be a hazard or too damp to be a hindrance, Snape said.
For liability reasons, Wasser had to start the fire himself, using a torch that drips a combination of fuels onto the ground. After that, foresters canvassed the property with the torches, and in less than an hour, the low-burning fire spread throughout the six-acre parcel near the Westmoreland County line.
Logs smoldered on the charred ground for some time afterwards, but the flames quickly subsided.
Wasser and Snape hoped the fire would serve several purposes. It would clear out holly bushes, sweet gum trees and dead logs so more grasses could grow and attract wildlife.
It would eliminate natural elements, such as pine needles and dried wood, that would fuel a forest fire that wasn’t planned.
And, the nutrients from the singed leaves and branches would replenish the soil, just as they do when they decompose.
“It did exactly what she said it would do,” Wasser said after the fire.
The stand of pine trees was planted in 1995. About half the trees were cut down 10 years later so the trees that remained could get bigger.
The next step, Wasser said, was burning out the under growth. He has several parcels on his 33 acres and plans to do the controlled burn on them as well, before he eventually cuts and sells the pine trees.
Before the burn, Wasser had to scrape a fire line—a dirt path—along the perimeter to stop the flames from spreading. The property was bordered by driveways on each end, so that helped contain the fire also.
He had to notify neighbors and pay the foresters for their services. Snape said she wasn’t sure what the fee would be because she hadn’t totaled the cost of personnel and equipment.
After the fire, Wasser didn’t have to do anything else to the land, besides keep an eye on the smoldering flames. The grasses will grow on their own, Snape said.
“We’ll just let Mother Nature take its course,” she added.