ERWIN, Tenn. (WJHL) – On Wednesday, members of the U.S. Forest Service burned more than 500 acres near Rich Mountain in the Erwin area.
Crews told News Channel 11 the prescribed burn has been planned for about four years, and roughly 30 to 40 people are involved. Operations included manning a bulldozer, using a UTV, and utilizing members on the ground and in the air.
“We try to get anywhere from 50, 60, 100 feet away from the lines,” said Drew Mickolay, an engine captain with the forest service. “Once that’s accomplished and they’re comfortable, they’ll call the helicopter, and the helicopter will launch and come over the fire. They’ll do a couple of recons, and then the helicopter has a machine in it that’s loaded with Ping-Pong-sized balls.”
What’s in the balls isn’t an inclusive chemical. An everyday item is actually the primary component: anti-freeze.
“The machine injects a liquid that reacts with the chemical inside the balls, and then they’ll drop to the ground,” Mickolay said. “Once they hit the ground, those chemicals react, and we’ll start a small fire.”
Prescribed fires help wildlife in various ways, officials told News Channel 11. Prescribed burns prevent unprecedented wildfires, help the ecosystem and create better hunting grounds.
“Once the burn has gone through and that low-intensity burn, then it opens the sunlight,” said district ranger Leslie Morgan. “The sun can get in there to the ground more and you see more vegetation coming back. It creates a lot of really good habitat.”
This particular burn uses a method known as “slash down.” The forest service cuts several of the smaller trees in the affected area down to use as more fuel during preparation time.
With that being done, it allows the older and bigger trees to obtain more water underneath the soil. The bigger and older trees are the ones that create the oak acorns for animals to eat, which attracts more animals for hunting as well.
“So that’s really good for the soil and the habitat to come back, once the burn has gone through and that low-intensity burn, then it opens the sunlight,” Morgan said. “The sun can get to the ground more and you see more vegetation coming back. It creates a lot of really good habitat.”
The U.S. Forest Service has plans to do prescribed burns in the area through May. If you see it, don’t be alarmed. Those burns are not expected to cause harm to the public and wildlife.