ALBANY, GA (WALB) - The forests of South Georgia. It's one of the prettiest natural settings in the nation. But this stretch of forest contains a tinderbox...waiting to explode into a raging wildfire. In Georgia, wildfires are more common than you might think.
"We average about 7,200 wildfires a year", said Allen Dozier of the Georgia Forestry Commission.
And one of the culprits is a thick layer of underbrush. If it isn't properly cleared and the forest catches on fire, it can spread very quickly, turning a small fire into a raging inferno. One solution to this problem is prescribed burning.
"We'll burn the fire under our terms and conditions instead of having a wildfire," said Dozier.
Prescribed burning has a number of benefits. The main one is prevention.
Dozier said, "once you execute a prescribed fire it's very unlikely that that forest will have a wildfire because there's not much fuel left to burn."
But there's another benefit that setting these fires has, and it's not what you might think. It actually helps the local ecosystem. While the fire that you see looks like it might be damaging to the ecosystem, the forest that's being burned will recover very quickly.
After one week, the Wiregrass is already coming back, after two weeks this little guy has made his way through the charred forest floor. And after two months, you would hardly know that there was a fire here at all. With all of the undergrowth gone, the topsoil is more easily exposed.
"A lot of the plants require the bare minimum soil to carry out their life cycles. So it prepares the seed bed for the next cohort of plants," said Mark Melvin of the Jones Ecological Research Center.
And while the smoke from a prescribed fire can be a nuisance to people with health issues, the alternative is often worse.
"We actually create less smoke when we do a prescribed burn than when we have a wildfire," said Dozier.
In the end, fire is a natural part of the forest's cycle. So the next time that you see the professionals doing this, pay attention. You might just hear the forest - and the animals that call it home - say "thank you".
Click HERE for more informatiion on controlled burning.