If you're out an about on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville over the next several weeks, you might notice some smoke in the air.
If weather conditions permit, park managers at the Blue Ridge Parkway plan to conduct a controlled burn on approximately 80 acres near the Haw Creek Overlook (milepost 380). These operations will occur sometime between Tuesday, March 1, and early April. The burn is dependent on wind, humidity and temperatures that are conducive to a good fire. In order to reduce the amount of smoke produced, managers plan to burn the area over a span of one to two days.
The goals of this project, dubbed the "Haw Creek Burn," are to use fire to reduce forest fuel accumulations and to restore a healthy and diverse eco-system. Fire managers plan to use a series of low-intensity controlled burns over a number of years to restore the composition and open structure of the oak and pine forests that occur on upper slopes and ridges within the site. These plant communities, which need occasional fires to regenerate, are important to wildlife and overall ecosystem health, and they are in decline throughout the Southern Appalachian region. This series of burns will reduce the number of fire-sensitive trees and shrubs while increasing regeneration of oak and yellow pines, and increase the cover and diversity of native grasses and wildflowers.
All wildfires within the park had been vigorously suppressed for over 70 years. One consequence of that long-term fire exclusion is that dry mountain slopes and ridges, which were historically covered with oaks and pines, are becoming increasingly dominated by trees and shrubs that are much less resistant to fires and droughts. The new forest has a closed canopy that allows little light to reach the forest floor, resulting in a decline of plant and animal diversity. The planned burn is designed to reduce the density of fire-intolerant species and to promote the regeneration of oaks and pines.
The Parkway motor road will be closed during fire operations. The duration of the closure is expected to be one to two days. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail will be closed during and after burn operations as firefighters extinguish hot spots along the trail. Additional press releases will be issued as fire dates are established.