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US Forestry Service explains reasoning behind prescribed burns in Francis Marion National Forest

HUGER, SC (WCBD) -- Driving through the Francis Marion National Forest, you may notice charred trees or a haze of smoke above the ground. 

It likely is not the scene of a wildfire, but a controlled fire.

US Forest Service professionals burn about 10,000 acres each year—on purpose.

Count on 2 Investigators toured a forest site that was recently burned, and a site that needs burning.

Kelly Wetzel-Wilson helps plan the fires. She says are several reasons why they burn the forest floor. First, wildfires are prevented with fire. The prescribed burn consumes a layer of the ground that can cause a wildfire.

Wetzel-Wilson said when the crew plans for a burn, the crew members make sure the humidity, wind, and temperatures are right in order to burn safely.

“We’re picking and choosing when we're going to burn it under the right conditions … If it was a wildfire, it’s out of our control,” Wetzel-Wilson said.

“We're doing it on our terms. We're doing it on the wind that isn't going to blow through the canopy where it's going to cause significant scorch or significant mortality [to the trees],” she said.

The controlled fire stays low to the ground. It burns what’s called the litter layer, leaving behind the duff layer, “which is what the trees need,” said Wetzel-Wilson.

District Ranger Rhea Whalen explained how wildlife is affected by the controlled burns.

The burns do affect some wildlife, but Whalen says the burn helps the ecosystem in the long run.

In an area with a thick litter layer, “you may get deer, some species  They're going to come out here and bed down during the day. But, as far as foraging habit, which is for quail, turkey, deer to feed, there's really not a lot,” Whalen explained.

The controlled burn allows sunlight the reach the forest floor. That helps create new growth, which will provide a healthy habitat for animals.

Whalen says in the 260,000-acre forest, there are 9 federally endangered species that need protection.

"If we don't burn our ecosystems, they will naturally burn or they will be ignited by arsonists or by man,” Whalen said.

About 11 more prescribed burns are planned in the forest for the year.

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