By Samantha Max and Maya Miller
As wildfires ravage the West, environmentalists and landowners in Georgia and the Southeast are preventing uncontrolled blazes and preserving the environment with prescribed burns.
Mark Melvin lit a match and dropped it to the forest floor. He then lit another and another, blazing a circle of flames around a towering pine tree.
Soon, a bright orange glow swallowed 113 acres of brush, radiating a skin-piercing heat. A thick fog rose from the ground, casting a shadow on the amber tree trunks looming above.
Lighting fires is like playing a game of chess, Melvin said. You always have to be one step ahead.
“I can see the fire before I light it,” he said.
Melvin is no arsonist. He’s a forest manager, responsible for about 18,000 acres of woods at the Joseph W. Jones Center at Ichauway Plantation in southwest Georgia. The expansive range, once the quail hunting preserve of Coca-Cola’s former president and host to distinguished guests like former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, is now a living laboratory for some of the country’s leading environmental scientists.
Each winter for the last two decades, Melvin has set fires to cement that legacy. On days when the weather and wind allow, he makes a detailed plan, applies for a burn permit from the Georgia Forestry Commission, and suits up in a mustard jacket and brown leather boots for a few hours of fire and smoke.
For him, fire is not just destructive — it’s an agent of change. The flames lick away layers of pine needles and fallen leaves, clearing a path for sunlight to seep in and sprout fresh shoots of grass.
Forests need fire. Without them, plants die, animals leave, and mounds of flammable undergrowth pile high. Rather than wait for a lightning strike or cigarette butt to spark an uncontrollable wave of flames, Melvin conducts controlled burns, also known as prescribed fire.
“Just like a doctor prescribes medication to keep their patient healthy, we prescribe fire to keep the forest healthy,” Melvin said.
Read more here: https://www.macon.com/news/state/georgia/article230380414.html#storylink=cpy