Sean Bates, 9, wears protective equipment that is worn when dealing with fires.

FORT BENNING, Ga., (Feb. 19, 2014) -- Why is it important to intentionally start a fire? That's one question that was answered on Saturday about the use of prescribed burns during Oxbow Meadows Nature on Fire event. The event was open to the public so the community could understand the importance of prescribed burns.

Controlled burns, according to the Georgia Forestry Commission, is a "safe way to apply a natural process, ensure ecosystem health and reduce wildfire risk."

"We're really excited about … this partnership with Oxbow Meadows and the Chattahoochee Fall Line Conservation Partnership -- reaching out to the community, bringing you out into the woods, bringing you out into these amazing places in the Chattahoochee Valley to learn about the ecology and the natural resources," said Michelle Elmore, who works with the Nature Conservancy and is the Chattahoochee Fall Line project director.

The Directorate of Public Works Land Management, which does the prescribed fires for Fort Benning, was also involved in the event.

She said the Nature Conservancy owns about 18,000 acres in the vicinity of Fort Benning and is part of Fort Benning's Army Compatible Use Buffer Program.

"(This is) an effort to do conservation in the area to help sustain the important resources on Fort Benning and in the Chattahoochee Fall Line region," she said.

Animals that are in the area are able to sense when a fire is near and they will move away, he said. Mice, gopher tortoises and snakes can go underground.

"Generally, the animals know what's going on and they protect themselves," he said. "It's pretty interesting. I've seen hawks follow the fire … and the mice running from it -- and (hawks) are getting them. (And) I've actually seen wild turkey following the fire length because the grasshoppers are jumping from it."

This year, Fort Benning is scheduled to burn 36,877 acres, said James Parker, chief of the Land Management Branch for Fort Benning. About 6,700 acres have been burned.

Many factors, such as whether it is too wet or too windy and the direction of the wind, go into whether or not Land Management will be able to burn, Parker said. Often times, they won't know if they can burn until the morning of the day they are scheduled to burn.

Prescribed fires help decrease the number of wildfires, he said.

"Back in 1985 when we didn't burn that much, we'd have (wildfires) out here that would burn 30,000 acres … we had over 600 wildfires a year," Parker said.

"It was hard to contain. Now that we burn very frequently, we have 100 to 120 wild fires a year -- it's a large number, but they're not that big. They are small and we can easily contain them unless they are in an impact area. We can't go in there and do anything."

Impact areas are where there are firing ranges and there may be unexploded ordinance, he said. Those areas are off-limits and in those cases they wait until the fire burns out.

After burning the area, everything turns black but within two weeks it "turns into one of the prettiest green sites you've ever seen," Parker said.

For more information about the Chattahoochee Fall Line, visit www.cflcp.org/about-the-fall-line.

Page last updated Wed February 19th, 2014 at 00:00