Ben Hiller / The Natchez Democrat — A dense smoke fills the skies along U.S. 61 Wednesday afternoon as cars travel northward into town.
Ben Hiller / The Natchez Democrat — A dense smoke fills the skies along U.S. 61 Wednesday afternoon as cars travel northward into town.

Forest burn culprit for heavy smoke throughout Adams County

Published 12:12am Thursday, March 27, 2014

NATCHEZ — A controlled burn of 5,000 acres of the Homochitto National Forest Wednesday created thick smoke that enveloped portions of Adams County.

The U.S. Forest Service conducts controlled burns every year to prevent wildfires and promote a healthy forest for plants and animals.

Danny Bryant, fire management officer with National Forests in Mississippi, said prescribed fire — also known as controlled burning — refers to the controlled use of fire by a team of experts to safely reduce excessive amounts of grass and brush.

Weather conditions Wednesday brought heavy smoke from the burn to Adams County and into Concordia Parish.

Homochitto District Ranger Bruce Prud’homme said teams began the burn at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday with the hope of avoiding smoke lingering through the evening hours.

“We try to do it early in the day to get it up and out as early as possible,” Prud’homme said. “Smoke on the highways in the evening is a hazard, so we try to do everything we can to avoid that.”

Franklin County Emergency Management Agency Director Mark Thornton said the smoke was so heavy in certain areas that portions of Mississippi 33 and Liberty Road were temporarily closed to motorists.

Prud’homme said Wednesday’s burn was the largest one the district will conduct this year.

“We try to burn certain areas every three to five years, but those aren’t always the same piece of ground,” Prud’homme said. “Some areas we try to do on a frequent rotation, but all that is spelled out in management objectives.”

Plants and animals native to pine habitats depend on natural fire cycles, which are mimicked through the use of prescribed fires to balance habitat and food sources.

Prescribed fire helps reduce the catastrophic damage of wildfire on lands and surrounding communities.

Pre-planned, prescribed burns are carefully analyzed and conducted under specific weather conditions.

“Prescribed fire plays an integral part in reducing fuels, improving all wildlife habitat, controlling competing vegetation, controlling disease and improving forage,” he said. “Because prescribed fires depend on having the correct weather conditions, the decision to burn is made very close to the actual burn time.”

Prescribed burning is conducted every three to five years in which about 200,000 acres of national forest lands are burned annually on the National Forests in Mississippi.

National Forests in Mississippi include six forests: Bienville, Delta, Holly Springs, Homochitto, Tombigbee, and the De Soto, which also includes the Chickasawhay Ranger District.