Frequent prescribed fires can help prevent raging wildfires like those that have engulfed much of Northern California according to a Clemson University researcher.
Forest ecology professor Don Hagan told South Carolina Radio Network fire behavior is often affected by the amount of fuel available and weather conditions in an area. So forestry officials can lessen the danger of a wildfire by altering the landscape before it begins.
“How a prescribed fire works is it helps reduce the acclamations of flammable fuel,” Hagan said. “So when we talk about flammable fuels we’re talking about sticks and leaves and all the things that build up over time in a forest.”
Fire behavior is affected by the amount of fuel available and weather conditions in an area. Hot, dry weather dehydrates vegetation and makes it more flammable.
Management practices such as prescribed burning began to be reintroduced in the southern United States during the 1970s-1980s. However, the technique is not practiced as much in the western United States due to summer temperatures well above 100 degrees and frigid winter weather, frequent droughts which parch land and air, urban sprawl across fire-prone areas and stringent air-quality standards.
“If a forest is not burned for a lengthy period of time you can really have dangerous levels of fuel accumulation,” Hagan said.
According to statistics from the National Interagency Fire Center, 71,499 wildfires burned more than 10 million acres in 2017. The center also reported 202,434 prescribed fires were used to treat more than 6 million acres in 2017. Eight of the top 10 states practicing prescribed fires are found in the South.