How You Can Prevent Forest Fires
in the Hurricane Ivan Impact Area
By Lou Hyman, Assistant Fire Division Director, Alabama Forestry Commission
hen Hurricane Ivan hit Fire Behavior Problems amount of fuel on the ground, which
Alabama last fall, it dam- In February, 2005, the Alabama means that a small fire can quickly esca-
aged an estimated 11.8 Forestry Commission (AFC) brought in a late into a major conflagration. As these
million acres of forestland team of nationally certified Fire Behavior tops dry out, they become even more
across the state. While a lot of the dam- Analysts to look at the hurricane dam- dangerous. In addition, the piled fuels
age has been salvaged, many landowners aged area and identify potential fire create “fuel ladders” which enable the
still have stands with trees that are blown behavior problems. The team found that fires to climb off the ground surface and
down or have tops broken out. storm damage varied greatly within the burn into the remaining tree crowns.
As the dead trees and tops dry out, area, based on timber types and local Here they can cause severe damage and
they create increased wildfire hazards. wind conditions. throw embers across the fire lines,
These heavy fuels could cause even a The biggest problem they identified increasing the spread of the fire.
small forest fire to intensify to dangerous was the heavy fuel loading as a result of Hurricane damage also creates fire
levels. tree blow-downs. These damaged areas containment problems and obstacles that
had high fire hazards because of the large hamper the building of control lines
8 / Alabama’s TREASURED Forests Summer 2005
around wildfires. The tops and fallen existing stands. Prescribed burning in burn permit. The number is on the inside
trees slow down the tractor-plows used stands with heavy hurricane damage is cover of your local phone book.
by the AFC, forcing them to push dangerous and requires the use of an Arson, the intentional setting fire to
through the obstacle or go around it. In a experienced Prescribed Burn Manager. another person’s property, is hard to fully
forest with heavy brush, these obstacles Burns need to be done during times of prevent. However, a landowner can do
cause safety problems for the fire fighters somewhat high relative humidity, and some things to reduce your risk. Maintain
by restricting their movements. may take two or more burns to eliminate good relationships with your neighbors.
As a landowner, there are two ways to all the hazards. This eliminates many causes of arson and
reduce the wildfire risk to your forest. also increases the number of people look-
One is to reduce the fuel loading and Fire Prevention on Your Farm ing out for your land. The biggest deter-
containment constraints, so that any fires The best way to prevent wildfire dam- rent to arson is having the community
would be low in intensity. The other age on your farm is keep wildfires out of express displeasure at arson incidents. If
action is to reduce the number of fires the forest. The most common causes for the community feels that woods arson is
that occur. wildfires in Alabama are careless debris bad, community members are less likely
burning and arson. Surprisingly, lightning to set the woods on fire.
Fire Mitigation causes less than one percent of forest Another arson prevention technique is
The first step that you as a landowner fires in Alabama. to reduce access to your land by out-
can take to reduce wildfire risk is to The AFC has guidelines for landown- siders. Installing gates on roads and hav-
improve access within your forest. ers to use when burning debris so that ing the main access go past the house
Existing firebreaks and woods roads you can do it safely and not cause further will eliminate many arson chances.
should be cleared so that fire fighters can damage or loss to your forest. No single technique will eliminate all
use them as a line of defense to stop Burn one pile of forest debris at a timerisk for a wildfire on your forest, but by
wildfire. This is especially important and keep the piles small (less than 10 doing hazard mitigation and basic fire
around any homes or structures on the feet in diameter). The piles should con- prevention you can have a better chance
property. New firebreaks should be estab- tain only natural vegetation or untreated of protecting the TREASURE that is
lished to break up the property into man- wood products. Clear the area around the your Forest.
ageable stands. These also help improve burn pile of any flammable material,
access into the property for recreation including grass and
Photo by Lou Hyman
and when prescribed burning is done. pine straw. Keep
The best way to reduce fuel loading is the burn piles at
to salvage the damaged timber. Salvage least 50 feet from
Photo by Lou Hyman
also reduces or eliminates the contain- structures and any
ment obstacles so that wildfires can be forest vegetation.
more easily controlled. Many landowners Only burn when
were able to salvage their timber this the winds are calm
winter. Although damaged pine trees are or light. It is too
not sellable for sawtimber now, harvest- windy to burn if
ing them for pulpwood, even at trees are swaying,
depressed prices, will bring in some flags are extended,
income and reduce the potential for or waves appear on
catastrophic wildfires in your forest. open water.
In some parts of the state, local con- Be prepared to
tractors are available to come into the extinguish the fire
forest and chip up downed trees and tops. if it becomes a nui-
The resulting chips can be used for sance. Maintain a
industrial fuel or other forest products, connected water
depending on local markets. There are hose or at least five
also in-woods mulchers, which grind up gallons of water
the tops and spread the chips across the and a shovel near-
forest floor where the nutrients can be by. Attend the fire
recycled. Both of these operations reduce until it is complete-
the fire hazard by eliminating the heavy ly extinguished.
available fuel loads and opening up the Before you burn
stands for easy access. any large debris
Another way to reduce wildfire haz- piles or more than
ards is by prescribed burning. The careful 1/4 acre of forest-
use of controlled fire under exacting land, call the
Containment obstacles - Tops and fallen trees not only
environmental conditions can eliminate Alabama Forestry
hamper the tractor-plows used to build control lines around
hazardous fuels with minimal damage to Commission for a
wildfires, but also cause safety problems for fire fighters.
Summer 2005 Alabama’s TREASURED Forests / 9