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Explaining why prescribed fire needed

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February 4, 2008

Baker County  -- It's prescribed burn time for many South Georgia property owners, as they clean their land and cut the risk of wildfires. The Georgia Prescribed Fire Council is leading an effort to teach Georgians that controlled fires are needed, even in a time of drought, to keep the land healthy.

Land managers burn 14-thousand acres of Ichauway plantation every two years to eliminate undergrowth, and build strong new vegetation and habitat for wildlife.

Officials with groups that manage land and fight fires in Georgia want everyone to understand that prescribed burns like this are necessary now to reduce the risk of wildfires. Georgia Forestry Commission Chief Ranger David Baldwin said "when you are faced with high winds, extreme drought which is a condition Georgia is looking at, and high fuels, the wildfire potential is extreme."

The Georgia Prescribed Fire Council is leading a nation wide effort to let people know that controlled burns are needed to eliminate those fuels, and cut the risk of another devastating wildfire like the one in and around the Okefenokee Swamp last April through June, that burned nearly 565,000 acres of land. Mark Melvin, Vice Chairman of the Georgia Prescribed Fire Council, said "it's a rare occurrence in our state that we have a big event like that, because we do a pretty good job of managing our burns with our rich history and legacy of fire in managing our forest."

Now facing another year of drought, property owners will be burning in February and March to cut those wildfire dangers and rejuvenate the forest.

 Melvin says some groups oppose controlled burns because the smoke for one day affects air quality, but they want to let those people know that it prevents much worse. Melvin said "what we experienced last April and May in the Okefenokee is we have about five weeks of a catastrophic wildfire, that impacted air quality as far as Cuba all the way into North Carolina."

 And these fires protect homes and timber from wildfires. For February and March you will see prescribed burns in South Georgia, and officials want to make sure they continue to have the ability to protect Georgia with this needed tool. Melvin said "when you see smoke in the air, that's someone practicing good land management."

 And hopefully prevent another disastrous wildfire if the drought conditions continue.

Governor Sonny Perdue Wednesday will sign a proclamation endorsing the use of prescribed fire in Georgia.  A majority of Georgia counties have also signed resolutions supporting prescribed burns.

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