Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park Plans for Prescribed Fire
During the next two months, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park will resume the prescribed fires that have become an annual event at the park. This year, the park plans to burn more than 400 acres in three areas, starting with 150 acres near the Wilderness Road campground in Virginia.
The "Campground" and "Lewis Hollow" burn units are scheduled for some time in the next two weeks, weather permitting. "Passers-by may notice the smoke rising as they drive on Hwy 58 through the park and shouldn’t be alarmed," said Chief Ranger Dirk Wiley. "We plan and prepare, and a month after the burn, most visitors will have to look carefully to notice the difference." "And that," declared Wiley, "is the difference between a managed fire and a wildfire."
Done properly, each prescribed burn will reduce the limbs and leaf litter on the ground that are the primary fuels for a wildfire. At the same time, these low-grade fires kill some shrubs and other tree species, leaving an open understory underneath a mixed hardwood forest. This was the type of forest that Thomas Walker and Daniel Boone saw when they travelled through the area, and the type of forest the park tries to maintain.
"These are relatively small burns" explained Wiley. "But for someone who isn’t aware, it will look like a wildfire on the mountain." For ignition, the park is simply waiting for the right weather which influences the size of the fire, how hot it will burn, the direction the smoke will blow, the effect upon endangered species, and the quality of the experience for visitors traveling through the park. The two burn units in Virginia will be directly visible to drivers on Hwy 58, while the third unit, "Harlan Road A," could have a minor and short impact for traffic on Route 988 through the park.
Each of these units has been burned before, and each fire is a component of the park’s overall Fire Management Strategy to help protect park resources and park neighbors from unplanned wildfires. To learn more about fire in the national parks, go to the park's fire management page.