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.

2017 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 - Susan Miller

photo of Jim Gray

Susan Miller has maintained an active, almost indispensable role in the NC Prescribed Fire Council for many years, beginning with her willingness to serve as Secretary, and continuing beyond her term as President. Susan's administrative superpowers have made her a de facto member of multiple committees. For instance, she oversees the website, has helped put together the newsletter, and sends out the PFC emails letting members know about training opportunities and recent research (therefore, she is integral to Education and Outreach). Susan manages the registration for the annual meeting, and maintains the membership roster, making her a part of the Membership Committee. Susan also manages the Paypal account -- which handles a substantial portion of PFC business -- helping out the Treasurer. Susan has always stepped up when something needed to be done, going above-and-beyond, and her good nature in doing it is appreciated by all Fire Council members, particularly the Board. In fact, at one of the 2017 Board meetings, Susan noted the challenge of an equipment policy, and the Board's response was, in effect, "Please tell us what you need. If we need to purchase an external hard drive or tablet to make it work, so you can keep doing what you do for the Fire Council, then we should do that." Susan also leads the North Carolina Longleaf Coalition, and helped to organize the joint meetings between the Coalition and the NCPFC, exemplifying the PFC mission, which is to foster cooperation among all parties in NC with an interest or stake in prescribed fire. The NC Prescribed Fire Council Board recognizes Susan Miller for service to the Council, and outstanding support for the continued use of prescribed fire as a land management tool in North Carolina.

NC Forest Service

NC Forest Service Award winners

The 2017 State Forester's Prescribed Burning Award was presented to North Carolina Forest Service Regional Pilot David Spooner and Crew Chief Wayne Everts. “When I was hired as a helicopter pilot in November 2011, I knew I’d be fighting fires, but I never dreamed I’d get an award for starting them,” Spooner reflected. “I’ve always felt the helicopter and crew are here to support the efforts of those on the ground and there are so many well deserving individuals who should have been chosen. It is indeed an honor.”

Both Spooner and Everts admit being surprised to have been nominated and selected to receive the award. Each separately said they are humbled by the honor, but give a lot of the credit to the many people, agencies and entities involved in developing, preparing and implementing a successful prescribed burn. “As always, it is not an easy decision,” David Lane, North Carolina State Forester, remarked before presenting the award. “I want to thank all our employees for their efforts and accomplishments in our prescribed burning programs.” Spooner and Everts were nominated by Thomas Crate, N.C. State Parks Burn Coordinator, who wrote the “aviation program is critical to the expansion of high complexity prescribed burning in the state of North Carolina. The aviation program is a key component of being able to safely burn off areas with poor access, to disperse smoke within a narrow burning period, and to increase the footprint of prescribed fires.” Crate noted Spooner and Everts deserved an award for their exemplary service during last year’s extreme fall wildfire season where more than 20 large fires burned greater than 60,000 acres across the state, as well as their efforts afterward when it came to time to start burning off unwanted forest fuels and improving forest health using prescribed fire. He added that after the fall wildfire season, many prescribed fire practitioners were extra cautious about assessing conditions for conducting safe controlled burns. However, when the state finally received rain and conditions improved, the team pulled off their first significant burns of the season between Jones Lake State Park and Bladen Lakes State Forest. Crate was leading the burn while Spooner flew an ignition pattern over the area. The burn in Bladen County was followed by another at Hanging Rock State Park and Stokes County Ranger Jonathan Young to burn off Moore’s Wall, and then at Stone Mountain State Park burning off Stone Mountain proper with Brent Triplett, N.C. Forest Service District Ranger, followed by a burn at Lake James State Park next to the White Creek wildfire in Linville Gorge with Rusty Dellinger, Caldwell County Ranger, and then Morrow Mountain State Park with Jeremy Callicutt, Stanly County Ranger. At each burn, Crate, Spooner, and Everts would be back together. Crate believes that without the hard work and dedication of Spooner and Everts, the prescribed fires would not have turned out as successfully. He added that they had “backup plans to burn the units in case the helicopter was pulled off, but no one wanted to think too hard about the work that it would entail.” He added that one of the greatest obstacles to prescribed fire is gathering enough resources to be successful. “Utilizing a helicopter for a prescribed burn allows a much safer and more efficient use of resources,” Spooner said. “It is safer because people and equipment are not required to be within the prescribed burn area to accomplish the ignition.” Everts echoes this sentiment, stating “a helicopter enhances the safety factor and reduces the length of time the ground personnel are exposed to austere conditions, and reduces the number of people needed on the line.” Spooner and Everts agree a helicopter can cover more ground quicker than other methods used during prescribed burns, provides an aerial firefighting platform to suppress inadvertently escape fires, and provides a burn boss the opportunity to direct ground resources and look out for hazards.

Crate believes when a helicopter is available for prescribed burning, it is one of the most valuable tools in the tool box because of its ability for observation, ignition source and contingency initial attack resource. He adds that one of the challenges of running any equipment is keeping it running and available for initial attack. Spooner and Everts had to overcome a lot of obstacles to keep up with the fast pace of the prescribed fire program, whether it was a dead battery, another helicopter that needed an engine replacement, bad starter motor or a malfunctioning *Plastic Sphere Dispenser (PSD) machine. The help Spooner and Everts provided to N.C. State Parks allowed prescribed burns to be conducted on 2,944 acres of Parks land ranging from coastal plain, piedmont monadnock, oak savannah, up to pine oak heath, all of which can be described as imperiled ecosystems in the absence of fire. Crate describes the burns N.C. State Parks and the N.C. Forest Service worked on together as being invaluable to the citizens of North Carolina because they not only reduced hazardous forest fuel loads, but also helped promote fire adapted species as a resource management tool and preserve some of the most diverse ecosystems across the state. “I have very much enjoyed working with our partner agencies. I’ve found these folks to be hard working dedicated professionals very much like our own NCFS people,” Spooner said. “The State Parks people have been especially good to work with. The pre-burn briefings conducted by the State Parks personnel are very professional and I would say, are second to none.” Crate believes N.C. State Parks afforded the N.C. Forest Service numerous opportunities to interact with their people and to explain and demonstrate of the agencies capabilities. They were also able to complete all the State Parks prescribed burns safely and efficiently without any accidents or incidents. Spooner attributes the success of these prescribed burns to the efforts in preparation put forth by the various agencies. This includes the meticulously prepped fire boundaries established and cleared for the burns. In addition to working with the N.C. Forest Service and N.C. State Parks on prescribed burns, Spooner and Everts worked other partnering agencies, including N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, Duke Energy, Alcoa Power Generating Incorporated and The Nature Conservancy, not to mention those conducted with private timber companies and landowners. Plus the two also helped with prescribed fires on Holly Shelter Game lands, Goose Creek Game lands and The Nature Conservancy Silver Run Preserve.

As if the assisting with the prescribed fires wasn’t enough, Spooner and Everts also helped with outreach, particularly at the Party for the Pine Festival at Weymouth Woods State Nature Preserve. They set up the helicopter and explained what the wildland fire community does to several hundred visitors from the surrounding Southern Pines area. Spooner believes the Party for the Pine Festival is a great venue for educating the public because the entire celebration centers around prescribed burning. “Every burn gives us the opportunity to display our equipment and talk to the public about how and why we do prescribe burning here in North Carolina,” Everts said. Together, Spooner and Everts participate in about 20 planned public outreach events every year, along with several spur-of-the-moment events that occur because they’re ready and willing to answer questions from people are curious. Last year, during a burn at Morrow Mountain, a home school group working on a forestry block in their curriculum enjoyed seeing the helicopter and the PSD machine while learning how it works from a live demonstration. This prompted one student to do her science project on the chemical reaction of different materials. “Public outreach is important because it gives us the opportunity to educate the public concerning wildland firefighting and the role of the NCFS, prescribed fires, the use of fire to fight fire and NCFS aviation in general,” Spooner added. “These events allow us to explain who we are and why we are needed. Incidentally, there have been several times at these events when people have come up to me and thanked me for helping to save their home and property. That’s very gratifying to say the least!”

Spooner and Everetts were nominated by Thomas Crate of NC State Parks.

NC Wildlife Resources Commission

NC Wildlife Resource Commission Award winners

This year's recipient of the NC Wildlife Resources Commission Prescribed Burner of the Year first started to learn the skills for being a professional fire practitioner when he was assigned to the Sandhills Wildlife Depot back in 2002. As part of a team that annually prescribed burned fifteen to twenty thousand acres, he continued to hone his skills and increase his knowledge of fire behavior and burning techniques with each passing burn season. After five years of observing the effects of various burn strategies in a longleaf pine ecosystem, he accepted a promotion and moved to the Northeastern Piedmont part of the state within the Roanoke River Basin where he is now assigned as a Wildlife Forest Manager working out of the Tillery Depot. During the past several years, he has planned and applied timber harvest treatments and prescribed fire burn prescriptions to traditional industrial forest stands with high basal areas and no previous prescribed fire history. His prescriptions include thinning loblolly pine plantations at age 15 or 16 down to 60 square feet per acre of basal area and introducing prescribed fire to those stands a year later. To date, he has first-thinned approximately 6,000 acres, with 4,500 of these acres having permanent firelines installed and entered into a 1, 2, or 3-year burning rotation. He has also converted approximately 120 acres of loblolly pine back to native longleaf pine, and has plans to restore native longleaf on an additional 500 acres in the near future - all of which will be managed with a 2-year fire rotation. The combination of these timber harvests and prescribed fire treatments have generated a tremendous response in herbaceous groundcover, enormously increasing both plant and wildlife diversity across what was previously a high fiber production, low species diversity monoculture loblolly pine landscape. Due to his efforts and management accomplishments, this year's NCWRC Prescribed Burner of the Year is Mr. Andrew Mynatt.

NC Wildlife Resource Commission Award winners

Chris Helms and the staff at Carolina Beach State Park are the 2017 prescribed fire award winners for the Division of Parks and Recreation. Carolina Beach is one of the few state parks on an ecologically defined burn rotation with most fires coming during the transition and growing seasons. Growing season fires, along with their hardwood control efforts, have paid off, creating a beautiful open landscape lush with grasses. Their staff eagerly take the lead on fires, more than that, they are willing to lend their expertise to neighboring parks and their partners. The park is prepared to take on the tough burns, going into areas that have been fire excluded for decades. Their park is surrounded by businesses, homes, and roads; requiring a large effort at media and public contacts, before, during, and after the fires which makes their accomplishments even more remarkable. All that while hosting 750,000 visitors a year to the park, all of whom are exposed to North Carolina as it should be seen, well-burned and well-tended.