HEFLIN — Two dozen kids learned all about forest fires — the good and the bad — at “Wild Wednesdays,” an environmental education program at Cahulga Creek Park in Heflin on Wednesday morning.
The U.S. Forest Service brought firefighting equipment including a bulldozer, tools and a fire truck to the second of four Wild Wednesdays, being held throughout June.
Blake Morris, zone fire management officer for the U.S. Forest Service, told the kids about wildfires and prescribed burns and how they differ.
He explained how prescribed burns benefit the forest ecosystem in the 90-mile-long Talladega National Forest, noting that the Forest Service burns about 30,000 to 40,000 acres of forest each year“to control wildfire and to prevent wildfire under the conditions that we don’t need them to burn.”
Morris said that a prescribed or controlled burn benefits the forest by reducing underbrush, which is fuel for wildfires.
According to Morris, wildlife also benefits from the prescribed burn, including deer, turkeys, bobwhite quail, grey and red foxes, snakes and lizards.
“We have this little woodpecker that we do a lot of burning for. He likes an open area, he likes an open area to forage and be able to nest in longleaf trees,” Morris said referring to the endangered red cockaded woodpecker.
Morris said that prescribed burns are primarily done during the dormant season but some are done during the growing season, depending on the situation.
Ernie Tilley, a firefighter with the Forest Service, did a show-and-tell of the various tools used to fight forest fires.
Tilley pulled out a backpack that he called a fireline pack, which contained a fire shelter, food, a GPS system, batteries and water. Other equipment on display included a drip torch, kevlar chaps and a chainsaw.
Tilley told the kids that he and other Forest Service workers are a “natural resource” that are moved around the nation as needed to fight fires.”
Ryan Shanebrook, another Forest Service firefighter, demonstrated a tanker truck and every kid got to spray the hose from the 75-gallon apparatus.
Robby Williams, a bulldozer operator for the Forest Service, fired up a large John Deere bulldozer, much to the amazement of the kids. The dozer’s earth-trembling racket drowned out all speech.
Every youngster had a chance to sit in the driver’s seat as Williams described the amenities of the bulldozer, including a cab with air conditioning, lights, two-way radio and joystick throttle. The bulldozer is used for fighting fires and creating firelines to stop wildfires from spreading, Williams said.
Dustin Rosser, 13, said it felt cool to sit at the controls.
“I’ve never really been near one of these machines before,” Rosser said.
Next week Wild Wednesdays will feature a hike to a waterfall on the Heflin Pinhoti Spur Trail. Tammy Perry, Heflin Parks and Recreation director, said that anyone interested should meet at Forest Service Road 500, with parking off of U.S. 78, at 10 a.m.
Wild Wednesdays is sponsored by the Friends of the Talladega National Forest and the city of Heflin.