Dan McKeague Contributing writer

The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests provide habitat for thousands of species across Virginia and West Virginia, including nearly 300 threatened, endangered, sensitive and locally rare wildlife and plants. To help preserve these and other species, Forest Service fire specialists are burning 322 acres in Giles County and 302 acres in Craig County. Based on predicted weather, burning occurred during the late morning and afternoon on Monday and Tuesday, February 20 and 21. Both project areas closed temporarily while the burn took place.

For the Craig County prescribed burn, we expected smoke to be visible primarily along County Road 615 and 617. Due to wind direction, residents in New Castle smelled smoke. The prescribed burn took place between Bald Mountain and Little Mountain. The project boundary included Mill Creek Road.

Experienced fire specialists closely monitored local weather conditions such as wind and humidity and made adjustments in the schedule as needed to ensure the safety of both crewmembers and local residents. Prior to lighting the burn, crews constructed and designated firebreaks to ensure the fire did not leave the burn area. Some individual trees burned, but the fire traveled mostly across the forest floor.

We are rapidly losing young forests, open areas and critical wildlife habitat due to 100 years of fire suppression and an aging forest. For thousands of years, fire shaped our forests and wildlife and our lands actually need fire to be healthy. Research shows that fire naturally occurred every 3-15 years in our area. Low intensity prescribed burns create open areas where a diverse mix of grasses, plants, and wildflowers grow and provide valuable food and cover for wildlife. These planned burns help to make the land healthier for people, water and wildlife, such as bear, deer, turkey and many migratory birds and many endangered species. This burn will increase food sources including blueberry, huckleberry, acorns and hickory nuts. Prescribed burns also have the important benefit of keeping homes safe by reducing fuels to prevent large wildfires.

For more information on our prescribed burn program, please contact the Eastern Divide Ranger District at (540) 552-4641.

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