Environmental protection efforts set Poinsett ablaze

A Shaw Wildland Support Module team member speaks into a radio while monitoring a prescribed fire at Poinsett Electronic Combat Range near Wedgefield, South Carolina, Nov. 29, 2017.

A Shaw Wildland Support Module team member speaks into a radio while monitoring a prescribed fire at Poinsett Electronic Combat Range near Wedgefield, South Carolina, Nov. 29, 2017. The fire was the first of the season and cleared the area of logging slash, or logging waste, which could act as fuel for unintended fires, such as those caused by lightning or the impact of an aircraft’s training munitions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Richard Palmer, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron (CES) firefighter, monitors a prescribed fire at Poinsett Electronic Combat Range near Wedgefield, South Carolina, Nov. 29, 2017.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Richard Palmer, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron (CES) firefighter, monitors a prescribed fire at Poinsett Electronic Combat Range near Wedgefield, South Carolina, Nov. 29, 2017. The 20th CES Airmen at the burn acted as backup for Shaw Wildland Support Module team members to ensure the fire did not become unmanageable or pose a serious threat to participants. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

Brock Williams, Shaw Wildland Support Module assistant module leader, stands near a prescribed fire at Poinsett Electronic Combat Range near Wedgefield, South Carolina, Nov. 29, 2017.

Brock Williams, Shaw Wildland Support Module assistant module leader, stands near a prescribed fire at Poinsett Electronic Combat Range near Wedgefield, South Carolina, Nov. 29, 2017. Williams led a six-person team in the planning and implementation of the fire, which prepared the area for the planting of Longleaf Pines. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

A Shaw Wildland Support Module team member ignites grass during a controlled burn at Poinsett Electronic Combat Range near Wedgefield, South Carolina, Nov. 29, 2017.

A Shaw Wildland Support Module team member ignites grass during a controlled burn at Poinsett Electronic Combat Range near Wedgefield, South Carolina, Nov. 29, 2017. The fire was used to clear a 10-acre area and create a nutrient-rich layer in preparation for the planting of Longleaf Pines. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

Shaw Wildland Support Module team members and 20th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters ignited 10 acres of land at Poinsett Electronic Combat Range near Wedgefield, South Carolina, Nov. 29, 2017.

Shaw Wildland Support Module team members and 20th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters ignited 10 acres of land at Poinsett Electronic Combat Range near Wedgefield, South Carolina, Nov. 29, 2017. The burn was the first of the season and removed brush and grass in preparation for the natural resource staff to begin planting Longleaf Pines in the area. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

Brock Williams, Shaw Wildland Support Module assistant module leader, speaks to module team members and 20th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters before a prescribed fire at Poinsett Electronic Combat Range near Wedgefield, South Carolina, Nov. 29, 2017.

Brock Williams, Shaw Wildland Support Module assistant module leader, speaks to module team members and 20th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters before a prescribed fire at Poinsett Electronic Combat Range near Wedgefield, South Carolina, Nov. 29, 2017. Williams discussed the importance of radio communications during the burning process to ensure all participants remained safe and informed of the fire’s progress. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- As the temperature increased and smoke rapidly filled the air, men clad in yellow quickly walked along a dirt path, setting the foliage they passed ablaze from canisters in their hands.

Shaw Wildland Support Module team members and 20th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters patrolled and communicated via radio as they controlled the burning area at Poinsett Electronic Combat Range near Wedgefield, South Carolina, Nov. 29.

The burn began the prescribed fire season and prepared a 10-acre area, mostly covered in brush and grass, for natural resource staff to begin planting.

“The reason this burn is important is the Longleaf Pine habitat, in the last several hundred years, has been diminishing,” said Brock Williams, Shaw Wildland Support Module assistant module leader. “A lot of the native wildlife and ecosystems depend on the longleaf habitat, so we’re here to remove some of the logging slash from this clear-cut in preparation for it to be planted with Longleaf Pine.”

The process produces a nutrient-rich layer for future planting and habitat expansion.

The improved ecosystem, resulting from the planting and increase in nutrients, is expected to positively impact Poinsett’s native wildlife, which includes the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, an endangered species which nests in older Longleaf Pines.

While the controlled fire creates the healthy nutrient layer, it also removes potential fuel for unintended fires, such as logging waste, also known as slash.

These unplanned fires could be natural, such as those caused by lightning, or due to humans, such as by F-16CM Fighting Falcon pilots dropping training munitions.

“Prescribed fires like these help prevent against munition type fires when they impact the ground from F-16s, or whatever aircraft are out here, by reducing the fuel load,” said Airman 1st Class Richard Palmer, 20th CES firefighter. “There’s no fuel on the ground after we burned this section, so when the munition hits, there’s nothing for it to ignite, thus reducing the risk of fire.”

Participating in the prescribed burn also gave 20th CES firefighters a unique experience.

“I love participating in this,” said Palmer. “I love wildland firefighting, getting a chance to integrate with the forestry commission guys … they’re great guys to learn from. ... It’s important to me because it’s a great hands-on experience with firefighting that we normally don’t get to do (on base.)”

While the Airmen and team members monitored the crackling fire and billowing smoke to ensure it did not interfere with the highway or training of F-16 pilots flying overhead, they also acted as good stewards of the land by ensuring the ecosystem thrived.