When conditions are suitable this month through May, state officials will conduct controlled burns on land inside Horry County’s 9,383-acre Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve, according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
DNR and state Forestry Commission officials will conduct the burns to help the native longleaf pine thrive and grow, officials said in a release about the burn. In addition to that species of pine tree needing fire to grow, such controlled burns also reduce potential wildfires by eliminating combustible fuels on the forest floor.
“When they (residents) see the smoke from these particular fires, it should make them feel so much better that the risk of wildfire will be lower because of these controlled burns,” said Scott Hawkins, spokesman with the forestry commission.
A devastating wildfire in 2009 consumed nearly 8,000 acres of the preserve and 76 homes, during what was called the “Highway 31” wildfire, according to officials. A total of 19,130 acres burned and 97 homes were damaged before the blaze was brought under control. No one was injured.
In a release about the controlled burns, state officials said they “are an integral part of the existing ecosystem that thrives on the property. Controlled burning provides many benefits to the numerous wildlife species that use the property including the black bear, white-tailed deer, and the endangered Red-cockaded woodpecker. Controlled burning also provides required habitat for many of the threatened and endangered plant species that exist on the area as well.”
DNR officials could not be reached Monday or Tuesday for comment.
Forestry and DNR officials often collaborate on such burns during this time of year when conditions are appropriate, Hawkins said.
“Fire is part of the life cycle and there are plant and animal species that benefit from fire. . . . Mother Nature did it with lightning before man came along,” Hawkins said. “People in that part of the state are on edge when they see smoke, as they should be, when they see it coming from Lewis Ocean Bay burning. The weather conditions have to be just right. They’re not going to light the fire if they think weather is not going to cooperate.”
Other Horry County Heritage Preserves likely to have some controlled burning conducted in the next four months are Little Pee Dee Heritage Preserve and Cartwheel Bay Heritage Preserve.