The Fort Stewart Directorate of Public Works Environmental Forestry Branch recently assisted the Fort Gordon DPW environmental team with a prescribed burn of its 5,134-acre Artillery Impact Area.
Over the last decade, Fort Stewart has assisted numerous Department of Defense installations with prescribed burning to include Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in St. Marys, Townsend Bombing Range in Townsend, and Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
“We are proud to support our teammates at other Installation Management Command and DoD installations,” said Tom Fry, DPW Environmental Division Chief. “Being able to support trainers not just here at Fort Stewart, but across the whole Southeastern United States is important because our team is improving the training platforms, reducing impediments to military training, creating a safer training environment, and promoting synergy and efficiencies with our partners.”
In 2021, the presence of range residue prevented Fort Gordon’s Forestry Branch from entering the AIA to perform its normal ground-based ignition. The skipped burn led to a wildfire that ignited during live-fire training. The fire grew to several thousand acres, escaped the AIA boundary, and smoked in the city of Augusta. Following the incident, Fort Gordon requested helicopter burn assistance from the Fort Stewart Forestry Branch for future prescribed burning of the AIA.
The latest AIA burn was scheduled to take place during one of the most popular weeks for tourism in Augusta: The Masters Tournament— a popular week-long golf event which draws professional golfers and spectators from across the world. Performing a controlled burn during that week posed many concerns for the Fort Gordon Forestry Division team such as wildfire and drift smoke, a scenario they wished to never repeat.
On March 8, Fort Stewart DPW Forestry Branch representatives escorted a helicopter from Fort Stewart to Fort Gordon to execute the burn. During the burn, Russell Carter operated the firing machine on the helicopter while Bryan Whitmore worked on the ground in an advisory role to the Fort Gordon Burn Boss.
“Weather conditions were favorable to accomplish this burn but the window of opportunity was short,” said Brian Whitmore, Supervisory Forester for Fort Stewart’s Forestry Branch. “Steven Camp, the Fort Gordon Burn Boss, emphasized the importance of the burn due to the upcoming live-fire training exercises and The Masters. We completed the 5,134-acre burn in under three hours and the smoke headed directly away from Augusta.”
The efforts put forth by both teams ultimately fire-proofed the AIA for future live-fire training exercises and ensured that wildfire smoke would not impact the communities surrounding Augusta. The Fort Stewart Forestry Branch was honored to assist their military neighbors on Fort Gordon while passing along some of their best practices for future burns in the area.
“The communication between Fort Stewart and Fort Gordon is what made this burn such a success,” Whitmore said. “The Fort Gordon staff planned for months and worked diligently to ensure everything was ready for the helicopter’s arrival. We look forward to continuing this partnership and assisting them with future prescribed burns.”
(Editor’s note: Bryan Whitmore contributed to this article.)