March is Prescribed Fire Awareness Month in South Carolina
March 2005 has been proclaimed Prescribed Fire Awareness Month in South Carolina as the state brings into focus intentional burning as a way to protect against the consequences of wildfire.
Gov. Mark Sanford made the proclamation March 3rd in a formal address on the capital steps, saying that prescribed fire is the "most effective and economical protection against wildfires through the reduction of fuels which have accumulated in the absence of fire."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been there all along as the only federal agency that regularly burns hazardous fuels in the state, and the sole mentor of local firefighters who normally deal only with structural fires. Last year state and federal agencies, as well as private entities, formed the state's first prescribed fire council to teach people about the value of burning on purpose.
"We have so many habitats in South Carolina that have associated understory species that need fire to stay manageable," said Terri Jenkins, district fire management officer for the Service's Savannah Coastal Refuges. "This proclamation makes it easier for us to partner with even more state agencies and get more hazardous fuels reduced in more places.
Jenkins is a member of the newly formed South Carolina Prescribed Fire Council, which, along with the state's forestry commission, was instrumental in influencing the establishment of Prescribed Fire Awareness Month.
Jenkins said that though there are no specific dollars that flow to the state as a result of the governor's proclamation the announcement helps fire districts focus on purposeful fuels reduction as an economical way to prevent excessive damage from wildfire. Service fire personnel regularly train South Carolina firefighters under a special agreement. In exchange, local crews help out on prescribed burns, since most structural firefighters in the state don't have the training or equipment to perform wildland fire projects.
Jenkins said the refuges under her charge currently burn about 500,000 acres of hazardous fuels yearly, but she hopes that number will increase to 1 million acres.
Currently about 14 fire districts in Jenkin's area of responsibility (South Carolina, a portion of North Carolina and half of Georgia) participate in the Service's Rural Fire Assistance grants program, and receive money to address wildland urban interface fire issues.
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