(WHTM) — In the spring and early summer you may see lots of smoke rising from area mountains or fields around the Midstate. These can sometimes be wildfires or brush fires, which are caused by the open burning of smoking materials, lightning, a downed power line, or some other method that is unplanned and uncontrolled.
But, they can also be controlled or prescribed burns.
According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, a prescribed burn is an organized coordinated effort that applies fire at the right place at the right time and at the right intensity. This is a way to improve the health of forests, grasslands, and shrublands. These fires burn under precise weather conditions by trained crews, according to the game commission.
The game commission states that in Pennsylvania, most burns take place in March, April, May, and November when the grass is dormant and leaves are off the trees. This allows sunlight and wind to dry the forest floor.
On the day of a burn, the area will be closed off to the public. Then, a contained test fire is lit mid-to-late morning in a small area to see if the conditions are okay to move forward with the full burn. If it’s okay to continue, crews will be burning along the downwind or uphill side of the area, which ensures containment, according to the game commission.
During the burn, other crew members are assigned to monitor weather and smoke conditions throughout the day to ensure the fire stays within its limits and is achieving the ecological effects the crew is looking for. Smoke sometimes will linger and can be seen for miles. This smoke dissipates after the fire but still may occur due to smoldering woodland. Crews do not leave the site until it is certain the fire is totally out.
Controlled burns improve wildlife habitat and hunting opportunities by increasing the production of shrubs such as blueberry, huckleberry, and blackberry. The burn also rejuvenates plants that are preferred by deer and elk. They are also good because they reduce the severity of wildfires by removing plenty of dry tinder and underbrush, the game commission notes.
The game commission has a public map that shows where burns are being planned. This map is updated seasonally and will even show a “burn imminent” status when a burn date has been confirmed. These decisions are very much weather decent and cannot be made more than a few days in advance. You can see the map here.
The Game Commission will also put out signage around the burn area during the coming weeks or months, and they remind people that the decision to burn can be made as late as the morning of the burn.