Sunday, February 17, 2013

Prescribed Fire Season at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

As part of a program to use "managed fire" inside the park, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park will be burning 286 acres near Tiprell, Tennessee in mid to late February. The goal is to reduce hazardous fuels near the town, and also to help maintain the type of historic forest found by Daniel Boone and Thomas Walker when they first arrived in the area.

"Managed fire," explained Chief Ranger Dirk Wiley, "is just another tool to help protect the park and our neighbors. It lets us burn a little, under very controlled conditions, so that we prevent a larger fire from threatening the park and nearby homes."

It sounds simple, but involves a complicated "prescription" that accounts for wind, fuel moisture, slope and sunshine, the spread of the smoke, and the effect of the fire on the existing plants. By carefully lighting the understory, the goal is to reduce the small fuels that can build up and create uncontrollable wildfires during dry periods. It also has the benefit of maintaining a forest that developed over thousands of years of fires set by Native Americans as part of their own desire to improve hunting.

The Tiprell fire will cover most of the hillside between Tiprell and the top of the ridge separating the park and Lincoln Memorial University. If all goes as planned, it will be done in one long day and the final result will be a subtle, but significant, reduction in both the fuels that carry fire and certain species of trees such as striped maple.

Park Ranger Shane Sturgill, "burn boss" for the fire, details that a successful prescribed fire will be almost invisible just a few months after the actual fire is gone. "It's not a raging fire," said Sturgill. "It's the kind of creeping ground fire that passes through the forest naturally."

The park will be notifying neighbors and nearby agencies on the day of the burn, and wants to make certain that nobody is alarmed by a sudden column of smoke inside the park. "It's just another day in the park," said Sturgill. "We're using fire as a tool to take care of the resources, the visitors, and our park neighbors."

The park encourages anyone with questions to contact Chief Ranger Dirk Wiley at (606) 246-1054, or email dirk_wiley@nps.gov.


Jeff
Hiking in the Smokies

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