If you’ve been on Fort Stewart for a while, you may have noticed the smoke in the skies this time of year. No worries, it’s totally under control.
The installation’s fire management team in the Directorate of Public Work’s Forestry Branch conducts controlled burns December through June every year.
The main reason for the burns is to sustain a high level of troop training, said Bryan Whitmore, fire management supervisor.
“Fort Stewart Forestry is the biggest prescribed burn program in the county,” he said. “We burn approximately 115,000 acres a year.”
Training can and will start fires, Whitmore said. Prescribed burning reduces the intensity and frequency of the fires sparked by training.
The weather plays a major factor in a prescribed burn. Whitmore said there are weather conditions—things like wind speed and direction, humidity, and recent rain—that must be considered before the fire is even lit.
“Before we even burn a block or think about burning a block, we make sure that area’s weather is going to be in prescription, to make sure the fire stays under control and does what we want it to do,” he said.
The prescribed burning also helps recover endangered species like the red cockaded-woodpecker, gopher tortoise, frosted flat wood salamander, Whitmore said.
It also helps perpetuate the long leaf wiregrass ecosystem. The ecosystem has been diminished to 3% if its native range, Whitmore said.
“We plant up to 200 acres of long leaf pine a year,” he said.
A recent controlled burn in the training area was a little less than 300 acres, but the plume of smoke covered the horizon. The large smoke plume happens from several small fires burning together quickly to form a large fire.