FORT STEWART, Ga. - The job of forestry technicians with Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield's Forestry Branch of the Environmental Division of the Directorate of Public Works has its ups and downs - literally. According to Caroline Fore, lead fire tower operator, a forestry tech may be manning one of Stewart's five, 100-foot fire towers one week then the next week, he or she may be on the ground marking trees in some remote wooded area of the installation.

"The primary purpose of the fire tower is fire detection," said Fore, a Tybee Island native, whose long career has taken her from forestry tech to licensed practice nurse then back to forestry tech. "If we spot smoke somewhere on the installation, we determine the location of the possible fire then call for a burn crew and tell them the best route to get to it."

Fore said one way she determines the fire's location is using the intersection method of basic land navigation. She shoots an azimuth to the location of the smoke from her fire tower then calls another technician capable of seeing the smoke from his tower. He then shoots an azimuth to the location. Where the lines cross on the map is where the fire is located.

She said the towers are not manned everyday unless there is an increased risk of fire. Fire danger ratings range from low (Class 1) to high (Class 5), Fore said. She sometimes assists heavy equipment operators from her fire tower by calling Range Control to determine if live-fire training is being conducted in an area where the operators need to do some road grading. She said she also watches for fires outside the installation.

"From my position in Lawson Tower, on a clear day, I can see into Liberty, Bryan, Tattnall and Long County," she explained. "I not only take care of Fort Stewart; I also help surrounding counties spot wildfires."

Fore said she likes her work in the tower, though climbing the steps several times a day can be hard on "aging legs." And although the towers are said to be built to withstand hurricane force winds and are grounded in case of lightning strikes, she said she prefers not to be in the tower during an approaching storm. Even a little wind and movement of a second person in the tower can make it wobble, which takes some getting used to, she said.

A weather station on the ground next to Lawson Tower, which is located off GA-144 near the Pass & Permit Office, is used to gather information on wind speed, direction and trends, plus relative humidity, fuel moisture and rain. She said fuel moisture is the amount of moisture in sticks, straw, grasses and underbrush, which could provide fuel for a wildfire.

"I'm just part of a team," she said. "You have to have each member of the team doing his job to make it work."

Another member of her team is Darryl Rodgers, timber operations team leader. When he's not taking his turn in a fire tower, he supervises teams of forestry technicians as they mark trees to be cut for an approved timber harvest.

"This is where the work gets done," he joked as he greeted his crew during a lunch break in Training Area Echo 11, Aug. 27. "(Marking trees) is part of what we do, but everybody has other tasks."

As marking crew member Paul McCoy primed a "Panama marking (paint) gun" by pumping it several dozen times, crew leader Buddy Minter and crew member Sam Blackwood explained how the trees are marked. Minter, who has been working in forestry for 38 years, explained they mark an average area of 300 acres per prescribed harvest, which takes several weeks to mark before the actual timber operation can begin.

Minter pointed out that all three members have to stay together, more or less on line with each other as they mark the trees in order to ensure the entire area is marked. Rodgers noted that 95 percent of the trees they mark are natural formations, not the neat rows of pines managed by forest plantations. These natural conditions with heavy underbrush and swamps tend to slow down marking operations.

McCoy began by spraying a longleaf pine with a diagonal mark that would tell the lumberjack this is a tree to be cut. Another mark was made at the base of the tree. He then took out a measuring tape and measured the diameter of the tree, which determined the lumber grade. A third mark was then made on the tree to tell the lumber company whether this was "pulpwood," "pine chip and saw," "pine saw" or "pine pole."

After every tenth tree, McCoy stopped and took what is called a "basil area reading," a cross section area of unmarked tree stems measured at chest height that includes the bark of the trees. He said the basil reading is used to determine percent stocking.

Rodgers invited The Frontline to re-visit his team toward the end of the year when prescribed burning begins, so its readers can see how it's done and why it's necessary to maintain healthy forests. Look for a follow-up article on prescribed burns in a December issue.

Page last updated Thu September 2nd, 2010 at 00:00