Fire Break Protects Pinebluff
BY FLORENCE GILKESON
If fire invades park woodlands, the town of Pinebluff will not go up in flames.
Thanks to a federal stimulus grant, a firebreak plunges through 18 acres of parkland purchased by the town for future development as a greenway.
"We've changed forest conditions, so if there is a fire here, it won't be catastrophic," says Billy Lewis, Moore County forest ranger. "It will be manageable."
Forestry Resources, a division of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, teamed up with Environmental Impact, the nonprofit research, conservation and development agency serving Moore and neighboring counties, to implement the program.
The official term for the project is hazardous fuel mitigation.
"It's a big firebreak is what it is," says David Masters, when asked for a simpler translation of that mouthful. Masters is central fuel mitigation coordinator for the Forest Resources' American Recovery and Reinvestment Act program in North Carolina.
Fire seemed remote the day of this interview with Lewis, Masters, Pinebluff Town Commissioner Jerry Williams and Terry Myers, research conservation and development coordinator for the Aberdeen-based Environ-mental Impact. It was raining and the soil was soggy in the firebreak.
The $71,000 in federal funds paid for equipment, vehicles and labor to carve out the firebreak through the park acreage between U.S. 1 and Currant Street and another 10 acres on the other side of the creek.
Williams says the town bought the land, 44 acres in all, for use as a greenway, and residents simply don't want it to burn down or to ignite nearby homes and businesses. He said the town did not have the funds to pay for the project.
"We wanted a greenway, parkland to be used by the people in perpetuity," Williams says. "We are delighted with the result."
At present, the firebreak area is not all that scenic. Heavy equipment was used to remove the highly flammable understory - scrub oaks, wiregrass and other low-growing vegetation that can fuel wildfire and wreak millions of dollars of destruction in human life and property.
But the longleaf pines still stand tall, untouched by the heavy equipment.
"We left the longleaf," Masters says. "It's a native species, and this will improve the longleaf habitat."
However, the small stuff is tinderbox material. Once ignited, these woods could burn across waterways and highways and endanger lives and property in the process. Firefighters would be further challenged to extinguish such fires because of their ferocity and the damage to the longleaf pine ecology could be permanent.
"It's just like a ladder," says Myers, who describes how fire can climb from dry vegetation at ground level on up to larger growth to encompass tall trees. "It also benefits the ecosystem, our pines and endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers. Enviro-nmentalists like this."
Masters says such a fire can quickly become too dangerous for firefighters.
"There aren't enough firetrucks in North Carolina to fight some of these fires," Masters says.
The town paid for firebreak work on parkland it owns on the other side of U.S. 1, but there was not enough money to do the job right on the east side.
"Pinebluff appreciates the fine work these men did. This is outstanding work," Williams says.
The N.C. Division of Forest Resources received $6.8 million through federal recovery act for six projects across the state. Of that total, $4.6 million went toward fire hazard reduction.
Masters coordinates Firewise, the name for the Community Wildland Fire Protection program that uses a federal grant to educate residents about the best ways to protect their lives and property against fire.
One piece of Firewise advice calls for homeowners to avoid placing pine straw and other highly flammable materials so close to their houses that a stray spark could set the building on fire. Firewise also provides advice about construction of houses with fire resistant materials and has advice about maintenance and home care, including the spacing and types of trees most suitable for planting around homes.
North Carolina is among several Southern states that are part of the Southern Group of State Foresters cooperating on the Firewise initiative.
Can massive wildfires create uncontrollable conditions here in Moore County? Lewis says it could happen. He cites extensive damage caused in California and other Western states, as well as the fierce fire at Myrtle Beach, S.C., a year ago, very close to home.
Lewis says this area, including Pinebluff and the southern end of the county, is not immune to similar damage. He recalls a serious fire sweeping through the area in the early 1960s.
Fire burned 180 acres south of Pinebluff about five years ago. Lewis says that fire ravaged woods from Addor Road all the way over to U.S. 15-501 and threatened several homes.
So far, Pinebluff is the only town in Moore County to enlist the fuel mitigation services of the Forest Resources Division, but Lewis says Pinehurst and Southern Pines are also considering projects.
He is available to discuss the program with interested municipalities. The Moore County office is on N.C. 73 between Eastwood and West End, and the telephone number is (910) 235-0216.
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