Forest Service Oversees Prescribed Burns - - The News for South Mississippi

Forest Service Oversees Prescribed Burns

The U-S Forest Service set fire to several hundred acres Thursday. It's called "prescribed burning." The giant plumes of smoke, just north of Saucier, could be seen for miles.

Fire races through the dry underbrush of the Desoto National Forest. The blaze near Highway 49 and Noble Road certainly looked menacing.

Eddie Baggett heads an 11-man team responsible for keeping this prescribed burn under control. The veteran forester says the main purpose of prescribed burning is to reduce the risk of wildfire.

"Hazardous fuel reduction. This piece right here has been left out for so long. It's only about 80 acres and then we've got some others south of here. Hazardous fuel reduction. Because if we get a wildfire in here, it could be catastrophic," Baggett explained.

A special flame thrower attached to the back of an all terrain vehicle blows a line of fire across the forest floor.

Weather conditions are critical. Baggett gets weather updates every two hours.

"It's ideal burning conditions today. We've got lower humidity and then being next to Highway 49 with this east northeast wind, the smoke is staying off the highway real good," Baggett said.

While the flame thrower works the side of the road, Mike Patten and his hand held torch are in charge of things further into the forest. The Montana resident is among a group of foresters who work around the country.

"Yeah, we go around all over the place. Southeast. Alaska. All over the West," Patten said.

Along with reducing the risk of wildfires, these controlled burns also help rejuvenate the forest. In just a few weeks, new growth will sprout through the ashes.

"We'll get a couple of rains in here and you'll see green grass coming up in three or four weeks probably," Baggett said.

Ideally, such forest lands should be burned off every three to five years.

By Steve Phillips

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