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Control Burn At State Park Last Week To Help Prevent Future Fires

Crews working for the North Carolina Division of State Parks conducted a prescribed burn Thursday April 18th. Crews burned under brush to help reduce fuel that could lead to more intense forest fires and to help promote a healthier ecosystem.

Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - You may have noticed large plumes of smoke billowing into the air at the Carolina Beach State Park last Thursday April 18, but don't worry, it was planned.
It's part of a management program to promote a healthier ecosystem and cut down on fuel that can lead to intense unplanned forest fires.
Prescribed burns are conducted in various areas within the park periodically.
Park Superintendent Chris Helms said the program is beneficial to the overall health of the park. Trees are not affected and the fire helps to promote new growth. He said the crews closely monitor the areas and he was perfectly comfortable with the prescribed burn taking place nearly right up to the driveway of his house within the park.
The 761-acre park Carolina Beach State Park was established in 1969 to preserve the unique environment along the intracoastal waterway.
According to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation, the role of fire throughout North Carolina's ecosystems over the last 10,000 years has been well documented. These fires were caused primarily by lightning, and fire history studies have established a long record of repeated fires of varying scale and intensity. Ecosystems that have been exposed to such fires typically exhibit high biodiversity, and many of these species are known to be dependent on fire for survival and reproduction. North Carolina is known to support a wide variety of plant and animal species that respond vigorously to fire. In fact, approximately 65% of the nearly 700 rare plant species that occur in North Carolina are known to be fire-dependent. Common plant adaptations that allow for survival in the face of repeated fires include thick bark and leaves; resprouting via underground stems; long-lived seed banks in the soil; and cones that open only in the event of extreme fires.
Many state parks support natural communities that are dependent on frequent fire for maintenance and propagation. In the long-term absence of fire, these natural communities will be altered so that they no longer support their characteristic native species. Because of decades of complete fire suppression, many fire-adapted ecosystems in state parks have been degraded. One result of this is that both common and rare fire-dependent species have been lost. Another result is that heavy concentrations of woody fuels have accumulated, and unusually intense fires can occur.
According to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation online at, "A well-planned fire management program is critical for properly managing these ecosystems, and the division manages these resources through the application of prescribed fire. Under this program, fires are deliberately ignited under carefully prescribed conditions using techniques that will achieve specific management goals. The primary long-term goals in of the fire management program are to restore and maintain high-quality examples of fire-adapted ecosystems across the state parks system. Prescribed fires are also used to reduce hazardous fuel levels, enhance habitat for rare species, and control or eliminate non-native species."
Most of the division's fire management occurs in the coastal plain; however, additional fire-adapted areas continue to be identified, and the division has expanded its fire management program to the Piedmont and mountain regions.
On the day of the burn, rangers evaluate the temperature, humidity, wind direction and speed, and other factors that might influence the fire. If weather conditions are favorable, the rangers set a small fire, testing an area of the land to be burned. Once the burn is complete, rangers patrol the entire unit and conduct mop up operations to ensure that the fire is out. Although the
landscape may look dramatically different right after the fire, the post-fire response is usually very rapid. Within days of the fire, grasses and other herbaceous species will resprout from their roots. Seeds that have been stimulated by the heat will germinate, and all of the plant species will benefit from the ash, which contains recycled nutrients and acts as a fertilizer. Canopy trees will usually be unaffected except in cases of extremely hot fire.
According to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation,  Most animal species are also well-adapted to fire. Mammals and birds will simply leave during the fire and then return. Most reptiles and amphibians will survive by leaving the area or moving into dens. After the fire, plant abundance and diversity usually increase, causing increased animal diversity. Bird diversity usually increases in response to increased insect populations that arrive to feed on trees.