Controlled burn source of suspicious smoke

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, May 21, 2008

MEADVILLE – Forest Service officials say the mysterious smokethat hung over Brookhaven and other areas of Lincoln County throughparts of Tuesday was a result of a controlled burn in theHomochitto National Forest.

While Brookhaven and Lincoln County residents wondered where thesmoke originated but couldn’t locate a source, Franklin Countyofficials knew immediately where the haze came from.

Homochitto District Ranger Tim Reed said a 3,200-acre controlburn in the Bunkley Road area in Franklin County was the cause forall the smoke, but that it’s unusual for smoke to be noticeable sofar from the source.

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“It’s unusual that it traveled that far,” he said. “Occasionallyatmosphere can make it go a good ways and you’ll smell the smoke.But usually it’s not as far away as Lincoln County.”

Local residents said the smoke got thicker and more noticeablealong Highway 84 going west toward Franklin County. The BunkleyRoad area is about 35 miles or more from Brookhaven, Reed said.

“It’s a pretty good ways, but it was a fairly sizable burn,” hesaid.

Reed said anytime forest officials do a controlled burn of thatsize, they monitor the surrounding areas to make sure visibility isnot obstructed.

“We monitor the highways and make sure there’s no visibilityissues, and we didn’t have any reports of visibility issues down84,” he said.

Reed said the point of the burn was to clear out the unwantedfuels on the forest floors. In addition, it helps with wildlifehabitat.

“About one-third of our burns are done during growing season,which has a different effect on the tree species,” he said.

Burns of that size are done by aerial admission, where chemicaltablets are dropped from helicopters. Reed said that process makesthe fire burn out faster and the smoke usually clears beforedark.

“It puts us in the position where we can burn those large areasusing the helicopter and it will put up a lot of smoke for a shortperiod of time, but it will generally disperse before nightfall,”he said.

Reed said the process is a very specific one and severalprerequisites have to be met before such a large burn can beundertaken.

“We have a strict set of parameters, such as weather conditionand transport winds,” he said. “We have to make sure there’s enoughto disperse the smoke but not enough to cause control problems.It’s a pretty detailed process.”