North Carolina Prescribed Fire Council

The mission of the North Carolina Prescribed Fire Council is to foster cooperation among all parties in North Carolina with an interest or stake in prescribed fire.

2016 Prescribed Burning Award Winners

The North Carolina Prescribed Fire Council Annual Meeting provides the opportunity to recognize prescribed burners. This year's award winners are:

NC Prescribed Fire Council Burner of the Year - Matthew Harrell

photo of Jim Gray

The geographic scope of Matthew’s burning efforts is likely smaller than most, but the challenges he has faced with Mecklenburg County’s prescribed burn program are certainly significant. Matthew heads up all prescribed burning efforts in the greater Charlotte area and the urban setting provides unique political and social challenges. He has taken them on, above and beyond his regular work duties, and has achieved great success. His efforts are three-fold, involving public education and outreach, training of staff and volunteers, and collaboration and partnerships with multiple agencies and stakeholders.

The Wildland Urban Interface in Charlotte around Mecklenburg County’s nature preserves obviously makes prescribed burning difficult. Not only is Charlotte highly developed, but it is non-compliant with federal air quality standards with requires additional steps be taken in order to achieve prescribed burning success. The conditions increase the need for outreach and education to people who may be affected by smoke and fire. Matthew has taken on the challenge of incorporating Mecklenburg County’s burn program with CharMeck Alerts, which is a tool similar to traditional Reverse-911 in concept but provides increased flexibility both in contact path and selectivity of the contact group. Residents near a prescribed burn are notified by phone, text or email when a permit is issued, keeping everyone informed of possible smoky conditions before they see it. The effort has reduced the number of complaints about the County’s fires, and as a results has prompted the Fire Marshall to be more comfortable issuing burn permits (therefore issuing more). Seeing the success from using this tool, other burners in the area have reached out to Matthew to seek input and guidance for using this tool.

Matthew has initiated collaboration with City and County Fire officials and Air Quality regulators to discuss new ways of achieving prescribed burn goals. In 2015 for the first time ever, the City of Charlotte has issued urban burn permits within the Charlotte city limits as a result of Matthew’s efforts to reach out to new partners and tackle complex socio-political challenges. These burns were implemented in 2016 on wildland areas that have never been burned. Matthew is also working with Land Trusts and other groups to develop regional fire teams that could help accomplish increased burning goals. While his position in local government is often not as influential as a state position to accomplish these goals, his creative thinking, persistence and ability to bring together multiple groups has led to many unlikely successes.

Matthew has recently taken on the position of Implementation Chair for the Council. In this role, Matthew has been proactive in setting agenda and holding meetings with the committee. He has also taken on the enormous responsibility of collecting, compiling, and analyzing all of the prescribed fire data throughout the state, from all agencies, non-profits, and individuals. This data is the backbone for the upcoming NC Fire Needs Assessment, and without Matthews work, there would be much less information available to this assessment. He continues to think of better ways to collect online fire data from every burner and ways to collect standardized data from agencies, and is collaborating with agency GIS staff toward a simple user-input data collection system that would streamline state-wide fire data.

For his leadership and innovation and for his dedication and commitment to the NC Prescribed Fire Council, it is with pleasure that we award Matthew Harrell the Prescribed Burner of the Year Award!

NC Forest Service

NC Forest Service Award winners

During the recent annual meeting of the N.C. Prescribed Fire Council, Kenny Griffith, N.C. Forest Service District 11 Ranger, was recognized as this year's recipient of the 2016 State Forester Prescribed Burning Award. David M. Lane, N.C. State Forester, recognized all those that were nominated for the coveted award, but admitted that ultimately he had to pick one.

I want to thank all those that submitted a nomination, Lane said. They all are doing great work in prescribed fire. Maintaining and developing partners, using technology to successfully carry out complex burns and more can be said, but one had to be chosen. Lane went on to describe Griffith as a partner guy who recently took the lead on a 40-acre burn for N.C. State Parks. The Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area is bordered by Interstate 85 to the south and the town of Hillsborough to the north. The mountain, which is the primary feature in the park, is the highest point in the county and has not been burned since the property was purchased by the state in 1979. Lane described this as a high profile burn with smoke management issues being at the top of the priority list. Smoke is a major issue for this area with thousands of businesses and homes within 1 mile of the burn site, in addition to the motorists using I-85. State Parks, the Department of Transportation, and the Town of Hillsborough were also major players in pulling off the burn over a 3-day period.

Griffith has also planned, coordinated, executed or assisted with burns that focused on promoting endangered species such as the smooth coneflower, environmental education and ecological enhancements, according Lane. Some of the projects have involved the Stevens Nature Center (Hemlock Bluffs) in Cary, which has built the benefits of burning into their educational tours; the National Guard in Butner; and the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Plant Conservation Program in Durham. He is currently partnering with Duke Forest, Ellerbe Creek Conservation Land Trust and the Wildlife Resources Commission for the next burning season.
As I started out, Kenny is a partners guy, Lane said. This is what it takes to have a burning program. Not only to accomplish the burning but to positively influence others about the benefits of the use of fire in managing North Carolina's ecosystems.

Griffith was nominated by John Howard his District Forester.

NC Wildlife Resources Commission

NC Wildlife Resource Commission Award winners

Wildlife Forest Casey Phillips works within the Central Coastal Work Area and his leadership in promoting and implementing prescribe burning on game lands, mentoring, coordinating, training and educating personnel in the proper use of fire has made outstanding contributions towards managing fire dependent ecosystems while providing critical protection to both State, commercial and private forests.

As we all know, burning requires outstanding leadership and is essential in achieving burning targets. However, with all teams, good leadership separates the exceptional from the good. Mr. Phillips has provided that leadership. Within the Central Coast Work Area, the WRC has seen significant growth in its game land acreage. Much of this growth has resulted in adding lands to our Game Lands Program that are fire suppressed and in need of restoration. The use of fire on these lands is critical in the WRC meeting its WAP goals and managing the lands to our expectations.

In meeting this challenge, Mr. Phillips has had to deal with limited equipment, smoke management guidelines, and inexperienced and limited personnel. Through his leadership and guidance, significant improvements have been seen in equipment acquisitions (new D-5 Crawler, pyro guns, and fire UTV purchases) and personnel growth in knowledge, skills and training used in prescribed burning and wildfire control. He has assisted new personnel to become prescribe burners, and setting up S130, S190 training. Today, nearly every WRC crew has at least one certified burner, with others working to become certified. All personnel involved in prescribe burning on game lands have completed training in wildland wildfire courses S130 and 190.

Through his efforts, game land personnel have seen major increases in the amount of fire prescribed. In 2015-16, nearly 5,700 acres were burned in the central coast work area. Fire was prescribed and implemented on 5 primary game lands. Without his leadership these accomplishments would not have been possible. In particular, to these accomplishments, his work with TNC to develop and the use of the Onslow Bight NFWF Grant to fund aerial ignition, developing burning contracts and contractors and to create a 4-person burn crew have made a signification impact within his work area.

In implementing fire on our lands, Mr. Phillips has participated in NFWF Grant development, and interacted with other agency and non-profit professionals to identify areas in need of fire and how to promote the use of fire to manage fire-dependent ecosystems.

Wildlife Forest Phillips plays an extremely important role in the WRC burning program. Through his leadership, the burning teams he directs and supports have made noteworthy contributions toward prescribing fire on the landscape. The use of fire has contributed towards ecosystem restoration on fire suppressed areas and has maintained some of the best examples of fire-dependent ecosystems in the coastal region.

NC Wildlife Resource Commission Award winners

Every year the Fire Management Team of the NC Division of Parks and Recreation selects someone to be our Prescribed Burner of the Year Award. During the nomination process a number of individuals or a group that show themselves to be worthy and the decision is difficult. What we have come to realize is that it is always a team effort but always with a strong leader. This year the team that was awarded was the staff at Falls Lake State Recreation Area led by burn boss and superintendent Eric Dousharm.

Finding the time, resources, and weather is an incredibly difficult task for all burners. For a park with over one million visitors a year and no staff assigned to fire, the job is manifestly more difficult. Despite the obstacles the team at Falls Lake performed 7 fires this year burning over 400 acres. The Falls Lake Team not only worked on their own park but also spearheaded the establishment of a fire program at Kerr Lake and conducted the first ever prescribed fire on the park and have lent their staff to fires on a number of other parks. For his part Eric has been a leader in fire in the division for over 20 years and currently holds a position on the division’s fire management team.