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Fire In The Mountains Is Always A Possibility

Controlled burn at Florence Nature Preserve
Controlled burn at Florence Nature Preserve

With our friends to the Western states in a whole world of fire trouble now, let’s be sure to remember our own lessons learned about living with fire here in the mountains of North Carolina.

And let’s also remember our neighbors and fellow North Carolinians, from the Forest Service and any agency with staff trained in wildland firefighting, sent out West to assist with those catastrophic fires raging now. Here in the mountains we are not immune to fires. This natural force has been part of our environment for thousands of years.

It is such a force that it has driven the composition of natural ecological communities. Many plants and animals have evolved with fire, benefiting from occasional burns by feeding on the new growth or having their seeds dispersed. Those occasional burns were set by indigenous people living here, more so than lightning.

From their perspective of ecological inter-dependence, fire was seen as a rejuvenating force, recycling nutrients and promoting energy move-ment through all life forms in the environment. After war and removal, settlers to this area adopted this same indigenous land manage-ment practice, using fire to clear land and even to uncover fallen chestnuts.

But that way was lost for over a century.

Controlled burn at Florence Nature Preserve
Controlled burn at Florence Nature Preserve

Fires were seen as destructive, and they certainly can be if not allowed to move through the environment say, every seven to 10 years. Over 100 years of build up of forest fuels from suppressing every fire leads to catastrophe.

Fires burn hotter, longer and move around much faster than any controlled burn. Add to that a new threat: North Carolina is now the number one state in the country for acres in the Wildland/Urban Interface, a place designated as where development intermingles with natural vegetation.

Simply put, there are just that many more homes in the way of danger, more so than Oregon (currently fighting the Bootleg Fire) or California (currently fighting the Dixie Fire, that state’s third largest ever). Have you smelled the smoke from those Western fires here?

Remember the Pinnacle Fire of 2016? Remember the Party Rock Fire of 2016? Sometimes our collective memories need jogging. I have often heard you’ve got about three months for action after a big event like those fires, then we all seem to forget and move on. I remember many of my friends having to evacuate, hoping to have a home to come back to. I remember my 3-year-old daughter suffering nose bleeds from the smoke. I remember pushing hard for landowners to use what tools we have to make themselves and their neighbors safe.

One of the best tools you have is to become Firewise. If you are a homeowner in the Mountains you have a responsibility to prepare ahead.

Becoming Firewise means when fire does come, valuable resources may not be needed at your place, and can be steered more where they are. Learn more. 

This also means the brave women and men charged with fighting fire won’t unnecessarily be put in harm’s way. Do what you can now, because with fire, it’s “not if but when.”

Torry Nergart is an avid adventurer, a local Brevard dad and spouse, and just happens to be conservation easement manager for Conserving Carolina, a calling that often puts him in a climbing harness, or waders, on a bike, or, yes, in a kayak, too, to protect the land and water we all love. This article was originally published in the Transylvania Times