Travis Dodson, wildlife biologist with the forestry branch, uses a drip torch to begin a prescribed burn as colleagues wait to begin their sections on April 13. (Photo Credit: Josephine Carlson)

By Josie Carlson and Leslie Ann Sully, Fort Jackson Public Affairs

Those in the Fort Jackson community are most likely well aware that Fort Jackson uses controlled burns to help its wildlife conservation efforts and to reduce the severity and chances of wildfires occurring.

However, due to a fatality in May 2019 all controlled burning came to a halt.

Now, following recommended additional safety precautions from the Department of the Army Safety Center as well as the Garrison Commander, controlled burning has started up again.

John Maitland, the Forestry Branch Chief on Fort Jackson said one new precaution is working with the Fort Jackson Fire Department. “The garrison commander … required that the fire department, who normally isn’t a part of our prescribed burning program, send an incident commander. They kind of oversee and make sure everything is safe, and that’s worked out real well … they’ve been great.”

Prescribed, or controlled, burning is the skilled application of fire under planned weather and fuel conditions to achieve specific forest and land management objectives.

In the past, Fort Jackson has conducted annual, controlled burns between November and July, covering an average of 12,000-15,000 acres over 70-80 days.

"The main reason we burn is to support the military training mission that provides the world's best Soldiers," said Ian Smith, Fort Jackson Forestry Branch fire management officer, in 2019. "Our job particularly is to take care of the land they train on and make it easier for them to maneuver and helps for visibility during training exercises as they move through the woods,"

"This land has lasted for more than 100 years as a training place for Soldiers and it needs to last at least another 100 years more," so it needs to be managed, he added.

“We can do what we enjoy to do, what we’re here to do, what needs to be done to support the Army mission, the training mission,” he said recently. “(Controlled burning) keeps fuels down for wildfires but it also helps with the environment …”

They help the environment by encouraging the growth of new vegetation, such as pine trees that can require fire to help them germinate. It also helps some plants and wildlife that depend on periodic fires.

Smith is happy to start the controlled burning again, and said things have come back full circle.