Prescribed burns signal less wildfire danger

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - You may have seen large plumes of smoke lately. This time of year, the U.S. Forest Service uses prescribed burning in De Soto National Forest to lessen the risk of wildfires.

They're basically using fire to fight fire. If you can burn off large sections of dry vegetation under controlled conditions, you can help avoid the kind of costly wildfires they're now battling in Southern California.

The heavy equipment was ready, and the weather and wind were just right. Friday morning around 10 a.m., a fire crew with the U.S. Forest Service prepared for another burn.

"Escape routes; Plow lines, creeks, roads," the safety officer instructed.

They were preparing to set fire to another 800 acres just east of Highway 15. Burning the dry vegetation on the forest floor lessens the risk for future wildfires.

"We reduce those hazardous fuels that build up on the forest floor. Then that sort of gives us an opportunity to get rid of fuels under controlled conditions versus allowing them to build up and having a wildfire," said District Ranger Ben Battle.

It's not just Southern California that has to worry about wildfires. The danger also exists in South Mississippi; though there are some distinctions.

"We are a little bit better at catching them quicker when they are out there for several reasons. One, is our terrain makes it a little easier. We have a lot more creeks and roads that help cut it off. The other thing is the prescribed fire, the burning that we do," said Fire Management Officer Jay Boykin.

Mother Nature has an amazing ability to rejuvenate following a fire. One area of the forest that was burned just a few weeks ago, on March 19, already has new growth everywhere.

The growing number of homes located beside the forest is called the urban interface, and it's something the fire teams consider when planning prescribed burns.

"We try to make those areas a priority so that we can go in and take out as much fuel as we can. We do have fire breaks next to private property, so that gives us an advantage should we have to come in and take suppressive action," said Battle.

Since January, the U.S. Forest Service has burned more than 74,000 acres in De Soto National Forest as a means of reducing wildfire danger and helping promote new growth in the forest lands.

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