Controlled burns rely on many factors

ATLANTA – The Department of Natural Resources held a controlled burn just north of Atlanta on Highway 624 Thursday morning. The burn encompassed 70 acres of state land that had been cleared of timber previously.

“We burn to reduce the slash, and the forestry staff will come in and trench it and plant new trees when the debris is cleared out,” area forest fire Supervisor Robert Pelton said. “We had to wait for a north wind to push the smoke and fire away from the road to burn this area. It will be prepped for planting red pine.”

Every time the DNR conducts a controlled burn it has to be cautious of the wind, weather, heat, and all other conditions that could affect the fire or smoke distribution.

“We try to do it all in one day,” Pelton said. “There’s a process we go through when setting the fire to keep it under control and prevent it from spreading to other areas.”

The burn starts in the area opposite the way the wind is blowing, for example, the fire north of Atlanta was started on the south side of the area to be burned because there needed to be a large amount of “black” or burnt area there to prevent the fire from spreading with the wind. This black area acts as a stopping line to keep the spread under control. Once the line is established, the crew works in intervals of 50 and 100 feet in and toward the center, burning from the outsides of the area to the middle. This creates a heat effect that tunnels the smoke to elevate vertically and gives the fire ventilation so smoke doesn’t settle on towns, roads or homes.

“The heat pulls the smoke together, and it goes straight up rather than out,” Pelton said. “The goal here is to clean up the brush.”

Early in the year, Pelton receives a list of areas his crew needs to burn, and they range from thinning underbrush to burning the slash from the leftover clear cuts.

“The foresters and land management staff prescribe burns for areas that need them, and put them in their plan for the year,” Pelton said. “The burning promotes the natural process of the ecosystem. It sets back debris and allows nutrients back into the ground for more growth. When trees meet a certain age class, they cut them or thin the growth. This keeps a diverse ecosystem and allows for new growth.”

The next burn the DNR has planned will be a bit more difficult than this burn because it is surrounded by pine.

“Pine is made to burn, its part of the growth process, so we have to be a lot more cautious around pine,” Pelton said. “We work in Montmorency County, Presque Isle County, Alpena County and about a quarter of Cheboygan County. The fire programs are having a difficult time right now because of funding cuts, so we do the best we can.”

Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.