A small airplane circled above a large smoke cloud rising out of the Mark’s Creek area of Hamlet on Wednesday. The Forest Service lit the controlled fire in a 35-acre wooded area to allow newcomers to train.
According to Richmond County Ranger Tim McFayden, new team members from Lee, Chatham and Anson counties were being trained on how to control and put out forest fires.
“We’re trying to make it as ‘real life’ as possible,” said McFayden. “There are four new guys training.”
Hamlet Fire Department was also on the scene, just in case.
The large smoke cloud could be seen from Boyd Lake Road in Hamlet, where fire burned on City of Hamlet land behind the city lake. District Forester Don Watson said they picked the perfect day to burn.
“We have about 16 to 20 percent humidity, which we consider low,” said Watson. “We might burn again tomorrow, but we are supposed to have northern winds, which can be a problem.”
Watson said knowing which way the wind blows allows them to know what complications can follow, such as a large cloud of smoke. Neighboring homes with small children, people with asthma or COPD could be affected as well as a nearby chicken farm. Luckily, Watson said, the farm currently had no chickens on site.
While McFayden assisted a bulldozer with keeping the fire back, Watson explained the way pine tree species in the Sandhills have adapted to occasional fires. He said long leaf pines need bare topsoil to germinate and sprout, but because people keep fires from spreading, turkey oaks and other small oaks crowd the ground with deciduous leaf debris, meaning they drop their leaves in fall. These leaves cover the ground and make it difficult for pines to grow, but they also create debris for burning.
As Watson stood on the sand road between Boyd Lake Road and Mark’s Creek Road, he pointed to one side of the forest, untouched, then the other, smoldering and dark from burning. He noted that the burnt forest will be healthier because of the burning, and that curious deer would be by in the hours after the crews left to see what the commotion was all about.
Watson explained that the bulldozer would push its way through the forest along the front line of the fire, leaving an open gap where it came through the trees. This gap would prevent the fire from spreading forward. McFayden walked behind the bulldozer with a drop-torch, leaving flames in the rut made by the bulldozer. Watson said the reason for this was to burn up any debris that might attract flames from the fire, and because the flames he made and the forest fire’s flames would suck oxygen out of the air and move towards each other. This final step eliminates any chance of the fire moving forward.
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at email@example.com.