Spring is right around the corner, and with the advent of flora and fauna comes a danger that can threaten homes and wallets — that danger is wildfire season.
Official fire season started in mid February and it lasts through May 30. Even though Sampson has had a damp start to 2014, it doesn’t mean the county is out of the woods yet, said Sampson County Forestry Service employees.
“We have the trend of the highest fire activity (in these months) with the low humidity, temperature increase, and wind, which tends to dry it out,” said Assistant County Ranger Roy Jones.
“We also have people out burning piles (of leaves) and doing yard work,” added Brandon Creech, who is a Forest Fire equipment operator.
In preparation for fire season, the team has more resources available and are on call with precautions in place for initial attack if a wildfire breaks out.
“It’s not an if it’s going to happen,” stated Assistant County Ranger Ben Watkins. “It’s going to happen.” During this time of year they keep one ranger on duty as well as an equipment operator continually, in addition to the state making changes to their schedules to accommodate the fire season’s unpredictable nature. Plus they have annual readiness inspections to make sure that they are on target with their training and equipment.
Those inspections ensure all they have to do is get into their trucks and go should a call come in.
“The higher fire threat, the more resources we have to have available,” Jones explained.
“Plus if the threat is high enough, everyone here will be on call,”interjected Watkins. They stressed that locals can do their share to reduce fire threat by being careful and not burning on a windy day or burning things that are illegal to burn.
“It is illegal to burn household trash,” reminded Jones. Burn barrels are not meant for household trash, and going out and burning trash that should go to the landfill in your back yard is not a good idea.
Creech also stressed that people need to make sure their fires are completely out before they leave the area.
“If it’s too hot to touch, then it’s too hot to leave,” he added.
Fire damage is just the beginning of the concerns that the Forestry Service is dealing with this time of year. The aftermath of the county’s winter storms this year is really starting to show. For trees that have been recently planted during growing season, the impact of the freezes and damp is just beginning to reveal itself, according to Grant Jones, Sampson County ranger.
“Our hazard reduction burning has been impacted this year,” said the ranger, noting the Forestry staff hasn’t been able to get out and do burns like they usually do because of all the precipitation over the last few months.
“It has been extremely wet,” added Jones. “We have only done two burns when we usually do six or seven by now.” He said that they will keep the properties that need to be burned on their lists, despite the fact they haven’t been able to get to them because of the weather.
“We have also kept a chainsaw crew on hand during the ice storms, but we haven’t needed it,” added Creech. Those icy storms have caused significant damage in the lower part of the county, he added.
“We have ice damage,” said Jones. “We are going to have to look at a tract or two.” They are working on scheduling inspections on those properties soon.
“Pine branches snap, trees lean over and it effects the roots,” Jones explained. “It puts a financial burden on the landowner since there will be an increased mortality.”
“Our tree planting numbers have been low this year as well,” detailed Jones. He said that timber is being cut but landowners are not putting the money back into it and replanting. Jones believes a lot of it has to do with the economy.
Emily M. Hobbs can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 122 or via email at email@example.com.