Kevin Seabrook

(Blacksburg, S.C.) — The Kings Mountain National Military Park is conducting a series of controlled burns this spring, which are intended to reduce the risk of wildfires and improve the habit of wildlife.

The national park has a South Carolina address, but it is connected to Kings Mountain State Park in North Carolina. The two parks cover roughly 11,000 acres.

About 75 percent of the 319 acres that are part of the controlled burns are located in York County and the remainder are taking place in Cherokee County. The prescribed fires began in February and will continue until the end of May.

Jennifer Schafer, an assistant professor of biology at Winthrop University, said human-made fires are helpful to the environment.

“These are ecosystems that are maintained by fire,” said Schafer. “They’re fire-adapted, they’re pyrogenic. Those are words that kind of mean that the maintenance of species diversity and ecosystem function depends on fire.”

Daniel Tenney, a park ranger at Crowders Mountain State Park, which is adjacent to Kings Mountain, said residents in the area may see or smell the smoke.

“It’s really tough here, because we have so many neighbors. Whenever you have a prescribed burn, you have to have smoke and we have to be super careful about what we do with our smoke,” said Tenney.

“Burn teams are conducting prescribed fires on days when the impact, as far as smoke staying in the air, would be the least problematic or would have the least impact on people,” said Schafer. 

“When the organic matter burns, there are gases that are going to go into the air; carbon dioxide, other things as well, but in the long term, prescribed fires that are managed, I think are certainly better than uncontrollable wildfires. Fuel builds up and if prescribed burns are not conducted, then you increase the likelihood of a large wildfire occurring, which is going to have a more negative impact overall on humans,” she said.

According to the National Interagency Coordination Center, there were 58,950 wildfires, covering more than 10 million acres, in 2020 and 50,477 wildfires in 2019, covering more than 4.6 million acres.

Schafer said controlled burns are conducted by teams of specialists who are working to limit the possibility of wildfires and maintain the health of the environment.

“Prescribed burning is very common throughout the southeastern U.S.,” she said. “Prescribed burning occurs, as well, out West, but what we hear about in the news is these wildfires, which are in part, occurring due to the lack of historical prescribed burning.” 

Last month, the Anne Springs Close Greenway conducted a controlled burn, intended to help improve the health of the nature preserve in Fort Mill.

“The purpose of this controlled burn in particular was to restore native species and to cut down on woody debris,” said Becca Cohler, resources coordinator for the Greenway.

Thus, these prescribed fires highlight the use of fire to reset the growth of plant life in a given ecosystem and make way for new life.

Last month, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster declared March 2021 Prescribed Fire Awareness Month in South Carolina.