North Carolina wildfire managed with limited suppression activity

Bald Knob fire

When most people hear of wildfires that are managed with a strategy of limited suppression they think of fires in remote areas of the western United States. But last summer the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina managed the Bald Knob Fire for over a month until it was knocked out by rain after burning 1,200 acres, only taking suppression action when it was absolutely necessary. Other fires in the Southeast have been managed in a similar manner but they don’t get the publicity western fires receive.

The firefighters in North Carolina benefited greatly from an adjacent 1,950-acre prescribed fire unit, a portion of which had been completed just six months before. Both that prescribed fire and another 120-acre project served as barriers to significant spread of the wildfire.

Below is an excerpt from a report about the management of the Bald Knob Fire:

The James Lake prescribed burn was treated six months prior to the wildfire and stopped the Bald Knob fire on the southeastern edge, creating a barrier to nearby communities and private land. The Clinchfield prescribed burn, treated last year, provided protection to several nearby residents west of the wildfire by allowing firefighters to utilize existing fuels breaks to contain the wildfire. Likewise, the Dobson Knob prescribed burn, treated last year, would have provided control opportunities for fire fighters had the wildfire grown that large towards the northeast. All of these treatments were critical in containing the fire and were used in the decision for managing the fire for resource benefit.

Existing lines from the surrounding prescribed burns were used in the confine and contain strategy for the Bald Knob fire. The only prescribed fire area that experienced fire activity in the Bald Knob fire was the Lake James burn. On August 5th, a localized thunderstorm with high winds allowed the wildfire to spot across the control line into the Lake James burn unit.

The Lake James fuel treatment clearly influenced the spread of the wildfire. FLN monitoring plots in the Lake James treatment area showed a significant reduction in Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron shrub height throughout the burn unit. The decrease in this highly volatile live fuel within the burn unit when compared to the surrounding untreated area was likely significant in reducing spread of the wildfire. The Clinchfield and Dobson knob prescribed burn units experienced a similar reduction in Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron, providing a fuel break that supported the management decision.

Bald Knob Fire
The Bald Knob Fire, which started on July 14, is in the top-center of the image, in pink and red. All images are from the USFS report. Click to enlarge.

Bald Knob Fire

The report, which can be download here (4.7Mb), is mostly well written and very informative. We like how they overlaid weather stat graphics with a transparent background over the Google Earth image — very creative. On the other hand, one of the other graphics uses 10 shades of red and 5 shades of blue on one map to represent 15 different wildfires and prescribed fires. We are fairly certain a plethora of very different colors are available that would make the map more useful.