Officials still investigating cause of death on prescribed fire in South Carolina

Angela (Nicole) Chadwick-Hawkins was killed

Nicole Hawkins
Nicole Hawkins, the wildlife biologist at Fort Jackson’s Directorate of Public Works Environmental Department, sets up an artificial cavity box 20 feet up in a tree at Fort Jackson Nov. 6, 2015 in preparation for a soon-to-be arriving endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. (U.S. Army photo by Jennifer Stride/Released)

Officials from three agencies have not released much information on what caused the death of wildlife biologist Angela (Nicole) Chadwick-Hawkins while she was working on a prescribed fire at Fort Jackson Army Base in South Carolina Wednesday, May 22.

Below is an excerpt from an article published June 11 at The State:

…Three federal agencies investigating her death aren’t saying much about the cause, but information her family has received from the Army and others knowledgeable about the death suggests some kind of equipment malfunction led to the fatality that stunned friends from Alabama to Virginia, family members say.

Chadwick-Hawkins’ son, Dakota Bryant of Myrtle Beach, said fuel was found on her upper body and on equipment she was using that day. A charred all-terrain vehicle sat near her body and a gas cap was missing from a fuel tank, family members said. The Alabama native had been in contact with base officials by radio, just before she died, they said.

“I don’t know definitely that it was an equipment malfunction, but it is likely based on the fact that there was fuel found on her gear,’’ the 24-year-old Bryant said, noting that fuel on her gear “was not normal.’’

She had worked as a civilian at the base since 2007, with much of her time spent in helping to bring back an endangered species, the red-cockaded woodpecker. One of the techniques used to improve the bird’s habitat was the use of prescribed fire.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Trump administration seeks to streamline environmental review of prescribed fire and logging projects

The U. S. Forest Service is planning to streamline the environmental reviews of certain prescribed fire and forest management projects, including logging.

Below is an excerpt from a June 12 article at

Federal land managers on Wednesday proposed sweeping rule changes to a landmark environmental law that would allow them to fast-track certain forest management projects, including logging and prescribed burning.

The U.S. Forest Service, under Chief Vicki Christiansen, is proposing revisions to its National Environmental Policy Act regulations that could limit environmental review and public input on projects ranging from forest health and wildfire mitigation to infrastructure upgrades to commercial logging on federal land.

Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen budget FY2020
Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen testified about the White House’s proposed budget for FY2020 on May 15, 2019.

“We do more analysis than we need, we take more time than we need and we slow down important work to protect communities,” Christiansen told NPR.

The proposed rule changes include an expansion of “categorical exclusions.” These are often billed as tools that give land managers the discretion to bypass full-blown environmental studies in places where they can demonstrate there would be no severe impacts or degradation to the land.

John Gale, with the conservation group Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, says that if applied carefully and narrowly to certain projects, these exclusions could help lower the fire risk. But he’s skeptical because the administration recently rolled back protections for clean water and wildlife

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Rick. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Comparing prescribed fire activity across the United States

Trying to compare the acres treated with prescribed fire in California and Florida is like comparing apples and penguins. In addition to California’s significant regulatory issues, the vegetation there is more explosive (in some areas), the terrain complicates ignition, and the road systems and access can sometimes be challenging. By comparison Florida is flat, access is usually much easier, and the fuels are not as difficult for an experienced prescribed fire crew to safely ignite.

But with the increased wildfire activity in recent decades and pressure from many sources to treat hazardous fuels and rake the forests, more attention is being focused on prescribed fire as one way to mitigate the effects of climate change. However the number of acres treated on federal lands is directly related to the funds appropriated for that purpose. And those dollars have been relatively flat for a number of years.

Climate Central put together some interesting graphics. (Click on the images twice to see larger versions and more tweets in the thread.)

Researcher finds that Native Americans ignited more fires than lightning

Data was collected in the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains in California

A California professor’s dissertation has won a prestigious award for her work that determined fires 1,500 years ago in the Sequoia National Forest in Southern California were predominantly ignited by Native Americans rather than by lightning. Until the last 100 years or so most forests in the Western United States had far fewer trees per acre than today. Suppressing fires caused by lightning, arson, and accidents has resulted in overstocked forests that can lead to very large wildfires that threaten lives and property and are very difficult to control.

Prescribed fires can over time lead to stand densities that replicate the pre-Columbian condition, but in modern times the practice has not been widely used in the Western United States at landscape scale.

Professor Anna Klimaszewski-Patterson
Professor Anna Klimaszewski-Patterson. (Photo courtesy of Anna Klimaszewski-Patterson)

“We should be taking Native American practices into account,” said Anna Klimaszewski-Patterson, a Sacramento State assistant professor of geography, whose dissertation on the subject recently won the J. Warren Nystrom award from the American Association of Geographers (AAG).

“After all, they are stakeholders who have been here a heck of a lot longer than we have,” she said. “We should probably be looking at their traditions and incorporating them” into forest management.

Klimaszewski-Patterson uses paleoecology – the study of past ecosystems – as well as environmental archaeology and predictive landscape modeling in her current work, which is funded by the National Science Foundation. She won the Nystrom award after presenting her paper at the AAG’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.

Using computer models and pollen and charcoal records to track changes in the forest over time, she has found that forest composition dating back 1,500 years likely was the result of deliberate burning by Native Americans, rather than natural phenomena such as lightning strikes. Those forests featured wide open spaces, resembling parks.

More information about the research.

30,000 acres burned so far in prescribed fire in South Florida

prescribed fire in Everglades and Biscayne National Parks
Cross-boundary prescribed fire in Everglades and Biscayne National Parks. NPS photo.

Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Park are conducting a cross-boundary prescribed fire this week in South Florida. So far they have completed 30,000 acres. Everglades is continuing ignitions today and tomorrow, April 4 and 5, 2019.

prescribed fire in Everglades and Biscayne National Parks
Cross-boundary prescribed fire in Everglades and Biscayne National Parks. NPS photo.

The south Florida National Parks often ignite prescribed fires with a helicopter-mounted device that drops plastic spheres which ignite after hitting the ground. It’s called a Plastic Sphere Dispenser, or PSD. Much of what the parks burn is vegetation over standing water. If the sphere lands in water it may not ignite the vegetation, but every sphere does not have to be successful.

The burn pattern in the photo below illustrates the paths of several helicopter flight lines. The direction of spread is being determined by a wind blowing from left to right.

prescribed fire in Everglades and Biscayne National Parks
Cross-boundary prescribed fire in Everglades and Biscayne National Parks. NPS photo.

When the PSD was first developed several decades ago it was called an
Aerial Ignition Device, or AID. When acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS, became a serious health issue, firefighters dropped the AID label and renamed it Plastic Sphere Dispenser, or PSD.

New Jersey Forest Fire Service enters their 84th year of improving forests with prescribed fire

prescribed burn US Air Force’s Warren Grove Bombing Range
A prescribed burn at the U.S. Air Force’s Warren Grove Bombing Range in Ocean County, NJ. Photo: Trevor Raynor

Michael Achey and Marie Cook of the New Jersey Forest Fire Service (NJFFS) wrote this article about their prescribed fire program, which is entering its 84th year in the state.

The NJFFS is the agency responsible for protecting life, property, and New Jersey’s natural resources from wildfire. One of the ways we accomplish our mission is by an aggressive hazardous fuel mitigation program, specifically using prescribed fire.

History and Purpose of Prescribed Fire in New Jersey
NJFFS has been using prescribed fire on state lands since 1936, primarily to reduce hazardous fuel accumulations. Other beneficial effects of these treatments include providing high quality wildlife habitat and resilience in forest health. While reducing the threat to public safety posed by hazardous fuels is always the primary mission, this year’s signing of the New Jersey Prescribed Burning Act has given fire management officers additional latitude for using prescribed fire as a tool to achieve several other ecological objectives. While prescribed burning takes place statewide across all ownerships, much of the activity is concentrated on state lands in fire-adapted Pine Barrens communities.

The state has proposed over 30,000 acres to be treated by prescribed burning this season, a seemingly ambitious goal having come off one of the wettest years current fire managers have ever experienced through the course of their careers. Prior to treatment, all proposed prescribed burn units are approved through a Departmental review process that considers natural resource, historical and ecological concerns, after which burn plans are prepared by local fire managers for each unit. At the time this article was written, towards the culmination of NJ’s prescribed burn season, approximately 15,000 acres of public and private land had been treated.

prescribed fire New Jersey
Students from the 2019 Prescribed Fire Exchange work on prescribed burns in New Jersey’s Pinelands region. Photo: Michael Achey
prescribed fire New Jersey
Students from the 2019 Prescribed Fire Exchange work on prescribed burns in New Jersey’s Pinelands region. Photo: Michael Achey

Education and Outreach
The 2019 burn season marks the second formalized annual Prescribed Fire Exchange, a program created to provide opportunities for students and practitioners outside NJFFS for training and exposure to prescribed fire techniques utilized in New Jersey. Students from Northern Arizona University, University of Idaho, and Utah State University have received training so far, as well as professional staff from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, New York’s Central Pine Barrens Commission, and the Montana Department of Natural Resources. NJFFS is extremely proud of this budding program which continues to receive praise from past and current participants. While our roots hold firm to tradition, we are continually seeking ways to improve our programs and expand the scope of their benefits. Anyone interested in participating in future exchanges should contact NJFFS state headquarters located in Trenton, NJ.

Beginning in 1926, the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station’s program in the NJ Pinelands has served as a regional hotspot for research of fire and forest management practices.  Over time, the development of a landscape-scale approach of creating a mosaic with prescribed fire each year has resulted in fuel hazard reduction and promotion of forest health and regeneration.

Today, this program capitalizes on the constantly emerging breadth of new knowledge and technology including satellites and laser-based sensors, to drive research on aspects of fire that were once impossible to study.  With topics such as fire spread through ember showers, fire effects, physics-based modeling of fire spread, and technological approaches to assessing hazardous fuels at the wildland-urban interface, this research contributes to the evolution of universally applicable fire science knowledge. Most importantly, the work strives to meet a balance of risk and ecosystem service needs with growing populations and changing forest and climate conditions.

prescribed fire stats New Jersey
2019 NJ Prescribed Burning Statistics as of March 21, 2019; “Other” denotes government land not in state ownership.

Additional information about the Silas Little Experimental Forest and the New Jersey Forest Fire Service and their prescribed burning program.