PENFIELD – More than 75 wildland fire personnel assembled Monday at a site just off from “The Governor’s Road” in Rush Township, Centre County, according to Wayne Wynick, assistant district forester.
A 345-acre Prescribed Fire occurred on the Moshannon State Forest Lands as well as on the adjacent State Game Lands 103, which was finally reaching the action stage after more than two years of planning.
The make-up of this group included state Bureau of Forestry and Pennsylvania Game Commission personnel from across the state. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service brought in both staff and equipment from a number of states up and down the east coast.
After a detailed briefing of all personnel as to how the operation was to be conducted and of each person’s role in that plan, the actual firing began at 11 a.m. with a test fire to determine if conditions were right to continue, said Wynick.
When the test fire proved successful, he said that the actual prescribed burn began. This, he said, started with the fire personnel igniting fuels along the heavily prepared perimeter of the designated site.
When this had created a sufficiently wide strip of “black” at the edge of the site, he said that the more intense ignition began. He said that the interior of the area was dense scrub oak that would have been too dangerous for fire personnel to attempt to work in.
According to Wynick, the solution to this concern was to utilize a helicopter as a source of “aerial ignition.” This, he said, was done using a machine that drops ignition sources in a controlled manner as the helicopter sweeps over the site.
He said that this surgical application of fire progressed well until late afternoon when an unexpected series of wind gusts caused the fire to cross the primary control lines in several locations. This, he said, eventuality was covered in the plan and fire personnel smoothly shifted over to handle the situation.
Wynick said that manpower and equipment converged on the spot fire. He said that this included engines, bulldozers, a firefighting aircraft from Midstate Airport and the helicopter that had been igniting the burn area, as it switched over to a water-carrying bucket to attack the blaze.
Wynick said that this coordinated effort brought things into control well before the fire ever reached the established contingency fire line that had been designated much earlier.
With the fire perimeter now secured, he said fire personnel returned to what they had been doing earlier. He said that having to deal with the spot fire meant that the ignition operations had been delayed for a period of time.
According to Wynick, crews ended up working well into the night to complete the original plan. He said that as the sun rose the following morning, there was only a small amount of mop-up and monitoring that would need to be done before the predicted rains of Tuesday afternoon ended any fire activity at the location.
Wynick said that the fire managers have had time to inspect the results of this planned burn. He said feel that the fire met 85 percent – 90 percent of the objectives that had been laid out in the plan, which is a very good result.
Wynick said that the use of fire to manage vegetation and enhance habitat is becoming a more common tool in Pennsylvania. In the Eastern United States, he said it has been used for decades as a management tool in woodlands to the South of Pennsylvania and the solid science behind it works here, as well.