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Prescribed fires are prescription for healthy forests
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A prescribed burn reduces fuels in planted longleaf pines on the Sandhill Research and Education Center in Columbia. Prescribed fires are typically low intensity fires are used to achieve specific management objectives, according to Kershaw County Clemson Extension Natural Resources Agent Ryan Beam. (Provided by Clemson Extension)

Gov. Henry McMaster proclaimed March 2019 Prescribed Fire Awareness Month in South Carolina.

Prescribed burning is a very important management tool in the Southeastern U.S., and can easily be related to human health. Humans rely on medical professionals to assess their health and make preventative recommendations that sometimes require a prescription. Forests have evolved with the presence of naturally occurring fires. These fires shaped the landscape, but often burned with low intensity and resulted in a patchwork of burned areas. Without these regularly occurring fires, the fuels -- made up of dropped foliage, woody debris, and herbaceous vegetation -- build up to unhealthy and dangerous levels. Much like a medical prescription is made to keep people healthy, forest managers prescribe fire as a management tool to improve the health of forests.

“This is a very important practice here in the Southeast and in Kershaw County,” Ryan Beam, the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service’s natural resources agent for Kershaw County, said in a press release. “It is vitally important that we continue to educate the public on why it is so important. Without doing so, we will eventually face the same catastrophic wildfires we see on the news taking place in California and other western states.”

When conducting a prescribed fire, the fuels will typically only include tree litter, grasses and small debris. In the case of a wildfire, where the fire gains much more intensity, more fuels become available which leads to further damage and added difficulty in controlling them. In an effort to reduce the possibility of catastrophic wildfires, land managers use prescribed fire to reduce these fuels in order to reduce the risk of losing valuable timber growth, damage to property and structures, and even loss of life.

“Prescribed burning plays a crucial role in forest and land management objectives. When a forest is managed using prescribed fire, not only is the result aesthetically pleasing, but fuels are reduced and the risk for damaging wildfires is much less,” Bean said. “So, the next time you see smoke as a result of a prescribed burn, remember, prescribed burning is an essential tool in the health and safety of South Carolina’s forests.”