Wayne National Forest Plans Spring Prescribed Fires

Contact(s): Dawn McCarthy, Public Affairs Officer

Burn Window: Approximately Feb. 16 through May 31, 2020


NELSONVILLE, Ohio (Feb. 14, 2020) – This spring, the Wayne National Forest is planning prescribed fires in two areas totaling up to 2,341 acres. The planned burn areas are located on the Wayne’s Athens Ranger District, northeast of Nelsonville and Buchtel, and northwest of Chauncey and Millfield.

Prescribed burns are planned fires that are overseen by professional firefighters. “Fire helps maintain oak trees,” said Athens District Ranger Jason Reed. “That’s why the Wayne National Forest uses prescribed burns as a tool to support healthy oak-dominated forests on the landscape of southeast Ohio.” This forest type is fire-tolerant, and occasional prescribed fires help oaks outcompete shade-tolerant species of trees like maple and beech. Oak-dominated forests provide critical habitat to a variety of wildlife species.

Depending on weather and landscape conditions, fire crews may use traditional ground-based or aerial ignition methods to conduct prescribed burns. Aerial ignition involves the use of a Plastic Sphere Dispenser (PSD) machine mounted in a helicopter to drop ignition spheres onto a targeted area.

“There are several reasons why we use aerial ignition when conditions are right,” said Reed. “We can do several weeks’ worth of ground-based prescribed burning in just a few hours, and also take advantage of short windows of opportunity when weather conditions allow these operations. But the main reason is to reduce the risk to our firefighters on the ground by limiting their exposure to the fire.”

Reed emphasized that the concern for safety will extend to all aspects of the operation. If it is initiated with aeriel ignition, a broad area will be treated with prescribed fire during a short time. “Because of this,” Reed stressed, “the public should be aware that a large smoke column could be produced. It may be visible from Athens, Nelsonville, and other nearby communities, but it is not cause for alarm.”

Summary details about the planned prescribed burns are below. More detailed information, including the decision memo, can be found at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=54754.

Long Ridge Prescribed Burn

  • Size: Approximately 1876 acres
  • Location: Hocking County, Ward Township; near the following areas: Buchtel and Murray City, Nelsonville-York High School, and adjacent to State Route 78

Carr-Bailey Prescribed Burn

  • Size: Approximately 465 acres
  • Location: Athens County, Dover Township; near the following areas: north of Chauncey, west of Millfield and Redtown

Prescribed Fire Goals and Parameters:

Prescribed fires are performed under specific weather conditions. The Wayne National Forest follows strict guidelines for conducting prescribed burns, and uses environmental factors including temperature, humidity, atmosphere stability, wind direction, wind speed, and smoke dispersion. If any of these conditions are not within limits, the burns will be postponed.

Through the use of prescribed fire, the Wayne National Forest hopes to accomplish these goals:

  • Encourage the growth of a diverse array of plant life, including sun-loving plants and grasses.
  • Ensure oaks remain the keystone species in our forests. Oaks provide food for many different animals. Using fire to bring light into our forests helps oaks grow. Without fire, shade-tolerant species will take over and eventually replace oak as the dominant species in our forest.
  • Protect human property by reducing the amount of down, dead wood in the forest. That way if a wildfire happens, it would be less intense, and potentially easier to control.
  • Perpetuate oak barrens and woodlands found within the forest. These remnant plant communities provide habitat for several early successional species. Maintaining these open woodland conditions with prescribed fire increases biodiversity in both plant and animal species.