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The Environmental Management Divisions Land Management Branch is conducting a series of postwide prescribed burns this year to reduce the risk of wildfires.
Prescribed burns are conducted year-round with the majority of the understory burns occurring from December through May on approximately 30,000 acres on Fort Benning each year.
Lead forester Stephen Hudson said controlled burning is an effective and efficient way to reduce or prevent the accumulation of forest fuels such as leaves, pine straw, brush and woody debris. Each training compartment is burned on a two- to three-year burn cycle with approximately a third of the installation receiving a burn each year.
(Directorate of Public Works) and Environmental Management Division, Land Management Branch staff are the only Fort Benning personnel dedicated primarily to prescribed burning and wildland fire detection and suppression, Hudson said. All controlled burning activities are completed by LMB personnel and with the occasional assistance from DPW, EMD and Conservation Branch personnel. All prescribed burners and crew leaders receive professional training in prescribed burning.
Each year, prescribed burns are conducted around the Harmony Church, Kelley Hill and Sand Hill cantonment areas.
This year, prescribed burns will be conducted in the training areas surrounding Kelley Hill. Hudson said these burns will produce smoke that may affect Martin Army Community Hospital and Kelley Hill.
The hospital is located in the Upatoi Creek drainage and smoke cannot be prevented from affecting these areas because during the night and early morning hours smoke behaves similar to fog by settling into creek drainages and other low lying areas, Hudson said. This relationship is presumably a result of fuel load reduction brought about by prescribed fire.
Hudson said prescribed fire has resulted not only in ecosystem improvements, but a decrease in the occurrence of wildfires typically caused by incendiary devices used for military training.
As annual prescribed fire acres have increased from approximately 7,500 acres in 1985 to 30,000 acres today, the number of wildfires has decreased from over 500 to less than 100 annually, he said. This relationship is presumably a result of fuel load reduction brought about by prescribed fire.
Fort Benning is not the only place conducting prescribed burns in the area, state or region, Hudson said.
Fort Benning is located close to several large private and industrial land owners who burn their lands as well. Most land owners follow similar smoke management planning as defined in state smoke management plans.
Prescribed burn precautions
When prescribed burning, every effort is made to control smoke. However, weather conditions can change, resulting in changes to smoke intensity and direction. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Southern Group of State Foresters agree, although some air pollution is generated by prescribed burning, the net amount is a relatively smaller quantity than produced by wildfires. The Land Management Branch recommends using these precautions during prescribed burns:
If you are healthy, you are not usually at risk from short-term exposures to smoke. If someone in your Family has asthma, heart or lung disease, is an older adult or a child, consider taking precautions to reduce health effects from smoke.
Add your name to the Fort Benning SMOKE notification email list at firstname.lastname@example.org to receive advance notice of planned fires on the installation and wildfire alerts.
If it looks smoky outside, do not engage in strenuous, outdoor activity. Remain indoors with doors and windows closed.
Keep heating, ventilation, and air conditioning filters clean and close fresh air intakes. If you must travel, use the re-circulate feature on your vehicles HVAC.