Prescribed burn consumes 5,000 acres in Harrison County

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Heavy smoke drifted above some 5,000 acres of Desoto National Forest Monday. It wasn't a wildfire, but rather foresters using a prescribed burn to reduce the risk of future wildfires.

Forestry crews on the ground and in the air worked together to contain the blaze and direct the smoke rising above North Carrbridge Road in Harrison County. They've already burned more than 30,000 acres this season. The goal is simple: Burn away brush under controlled conditions, and you'll reduce the risk for wildfire on this forest land.

"I've got eleven people today, which is, usually we have six, eight, something like that. We have contingency crews just because we are in wildland fire danger. And then we have crews that can break loose if a wildfire does come up today," said Eddie Baggett with the U.S. Forest Service.

Foresters use kerosene torches to light the perimeter of this nearly 3,000 acre blaze. Once the wall of fire gets going around the site, they'll also ignite the forest from the air, with a helicopter crew.

"What we're doing here, we've got the perimeter road lit. And then the whole north and east side of the burn is Tuxachanie Creek," Baggett explained. "So the helicopter can come in and he puts in a grid pattern and drops 'ping pong balls' usually about every hundred to 200 feet."

The so-called "ping pong balls" are plastic balls filled with chemicals that ignite when dropped on the dry, flammable forest floor.

"Our main thing is smoke management. If we're going to put up a lot of smoke, we want to get it up and out of here."

A strong wind from the southeast made conditions favorable for burning with the smoke drifting away from the coast population. Along with reducing the risk of wildfire, these prescribed burns also help rejuvenate the forest. Come back to this area in just a few weeks and you'll see plenty of evidence of new growth.

The burn along the Tuxachanie Creek was around 3,000 acres. Forestry crews also burned another 2,300 acres Monday in the northern part of the district. Forestry crews try to burn the same section of forest at least every three years to keep wildfire risk to a minimum.

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