114. Murphy Peterson Wildlife Drive Fire Management

You will notice a fenced-in area across the road. This is our heliport, and it is mostly used for our fire program. Some people don’t realize that fire is a natural process. Much of the refuge is pocosin habitat, which typically has a natural fire cycle of 3 to 7 years. Native Americans were known to set fires to aid in hunting game and to promote better access to the woods and marshes. Frequent fires had the effect of pruning back the thickets of shrubs and canes; consuming accumulations of dead grasses, pine litter, and woody debris; and recycling nutrients into the soil. The results were more open conditions in the marshes and woodlands and very diverse and productive wildlife habitats. Many times, we start carefully planned fires on the refuge to reduce hazardous fuel conditions and to mimic the natural fires of the past. Many plant species, such as pond pine, are fire-dependent and need fire to reseed and maintain a healthy stand. Management fires are accomplished under "prescribed" conditions so they can be managed safely to burn out the accumulation of forest litter and shrubs. Helicopters are used not only to drop water on the fire and surrounding ground, but also to start fires during prescribed burns. They also can be used to help spot smoke. You may remember that Smokey Bear used to say, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” He now says, “Only you can prevent wildfires” because not all forest fires are bad!