HEFLIN — There was not a cloud in the sky on Wednesday, except for an ominous looking wall of smoke hovering over Talladega National Forest near Heflin.
The Shoal Creek District burned 1,200 acres of forest along Forest Road 500, a rugged dirt track that snakes through the forest along ridges and hollows. The controlled burn was near the Pine Glen campground and points south along Forest Road 500.
Karen McKenzie, district ranger for the forest’s Shoal Creek District, said the prescribed burn benefits the forest.
“The conditions were appropriate today for a prescribed burn. We’re expecting potential rain to come in tomorrow,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie said the rain is appreciated to help put out any residual burning in the area.
According to McKenzie, the benefits of the prescribed burn include the elimination of potential fuel for wildfires and creating a more favorable habitat for longleaf pine trees. The fires also reduce underbrush growing alongside trees, which in turn helps support wildlife such as bats and the red-cockaded woodpecker.
Blake Morris, assistant fire management officer for the Talladega division, said he had 18 people in the forest during the prescribed burn — eight of them from out of state. He, too, cited the benefits of prescribed burns for longleaf pines.
“It helps restore the longleaf habitat by reducing competition for the longleaf,” Morris said.
McKenzie said the longleaf pines depend on burning to maintain the unique ecosystem in the mountains.
According to a Fire Science Brief — published by firescience.gov — longleaf pines are the most fire-dependent trees of North America. The fires allows longleaf seeds to come in contact with the soil. The longleaf pine seedlings remain in a fire-resistant grass stage for 5 to 12 years before growing.
The prescribed burn season starts in January and ends in May.
Morris said that a particular combination of wind, humidity and temperature must be present before a prescribed burn can be initiated.
“During the next available burn window, we’ll try to do another prescribed burn,” McKenzie said.