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LOCAL

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 28, 2010

THE ITEM

A3

Starting fires is part of park rangers’ jobs BY R. DARREN PRICE dprice@theitem.com

other firefighters got to work getting things ready. Controlled burns are more science than pyroWEDGEFIELD — Just technics, said Douglas. off SC 261 near Wedgefield, drivers could see it: After spraying an area with herbicide six weeks men in yellow fire suits before the burn, the forsharing a smoke near a est has to get a fire pertract of scorched earth. The skies are blue, and mit and wait for a day a light breeze pushes the when the wind and humidity are not too high. breeze away from the Then the group figures route that cuts Manout what type of fire they chester State Forest in plan to light based on the half from Paxville to US plants and brush in a 378. The light, smoky burn area, which they haze this recent Friday makes it look like a small call “fuel.” For a grassland like the one burned wildfire. The four men started it — it’s their job. Nov. 19, they light a fire “People see the smoke at one end of the tract and say ‘oh my god,’” said and let a light breeze blow the fire to the other Charlie Scruggs, one of end. For that kind of the men. “People get in panic mode and think the burn, Douglas said the entire area will be comforest is burning down.” pletely burned after just a Scruggs, James Dougfew hours, and they can las, Tommy Kelley and start planting as soon as Clay Howard, all park the ground cools off. rangers, work to make “We’ll probably plant sure burning down the this field in the next couforest doesn’t happen. Throughout the year, they ple of weeks,” he said of the singed grassland. schedule controlled Douglas and Scruggs burns in different areas of said they watch the fire the forest for everything for a couple hours to from preventing a fivealarm wildfire to clearing make sure things don’t go awry, but sometimes the forest floor to plantsmall changes in weather ing new foliage. Forest conditions can cause director Harvey Belser trouble. During a recent said burning parts of the underbrush burn, wind area is a vital part of the threw a thick cloud onto forest’s operation. SC 261. “It’s a normal part of The rangers had to get what we do at the forest,” a local fire station to he said. “It’s a lot of scihelp, and Scruggs got wet ence and art to it.” trying to keep burning Right now, Belser said stumps from spitting fire the foresters are in the process of burning grass- close to the road. “This thing definitely lands to plant longleaf isn’t waterproof,” he said pine, a tree native to the of his flame-retardant Carolinas, to replace suit. slash pine, a Gulf Coast But, Scruggs said the species susceptible to group usually has a good disease, wind and ice breakage. And, according track record of making sure things don’t get out to state Department of of hand. Natural Resources, lon“You can’t let it get too gleaf pine thrives in a fresh-burned forest floor. wild,” he said. “We want these burns to stay as The trees planted will clean as possible.” one day be chopped Douglas said it’s taken down and sold — but a lot of time and classes Belser said it was an important step nonetheless. to learn how to keep fires “It’s critical these plants under control. are planted to the correct “We’ve had to go depth,” Belser said. through all kinds of trainSo, Scruggs and the ing,” he said. “We even

R. DARREN PRICE / THE ITEM

James Douglas lights up a field using a mixture of diesel and unleaded gasoline. The fuel squirts out of a flamethrower on the back of his ATV and tosses fireballs on the ground.

had a meteorologist come in and talk to us for three days about weather.” But Douglas, who has been doing burns for about four years, said getting to do the burns is worth the class time. “It’s definitely one of the better parts of the job,” he said. “You get to have a little fun.” But it’s still a job, Scruggs said. His sootsmeared yellow suit and the smoke-filled air probably say it best. “It’s a dirty, nasty job,” he said. “Ain’t anything glamorous about it.” Reach R. Darren Price at (803) 435-8511.

As Manchester State Forest’s firefighers, Tommy Kelley, Clay Howard, James Douglas and Charlie Scruggs spend more time lighting blazes than putting them out.

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Starting fires part of the job  

When you drive through Manchester State Forest, the whole place might look to be on fire. Don't worry, these park rangers started the blaze.

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