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Large Wildfire in NW Colleton Requires Six Dozers to Stop


Scott Ulmer with the SC Forestry Commission

at Colleton wildfire on Sept. 17.

Despite tropical weather systems that pass close to the South Carolina coast, the month of September has brought hot and dry conditions to much of the state. Readers of the Colletonian recall the August 12 declaration of incipient drought, and on September 18 Colleton County was upgraded to a moderate stage of drought. A larger than average 138-acre wildfire burned through a rural area in Northwest Colleton County last week, requiring fast action from the South Carolina Forestry Commission to plow around the fire during a day with temperatures soaring into the 90’s.
Edisto Unit Forester Pete Stuckey is a longtime S.C. Forestry Commission employee who oversees eight counties including Colleton County. “The good news from the fire on September 17 is that Fire Management Officer Scott Ulmer got on that fire quickly since he lives near the area,” said Stuckey. “Acting as the Incident Commander on the scene, Scott directed six of our bulldozer operators about where to plow and how to handle a hot fire burning through terrain that was rough and tough.”
The 138-acres wildfire crossed multiple property lines in a section of the county with no major roads between Highway 178 and McLeod Road. With many contiguous tracts of land that are under various states of active timber management, this setting was a real threat for an even wider wildfire. Many acres is this area have been bedded with heavy equipment to plant pine trees along wind rows, making it rough terrain even for a large bulldozer to plow through. With lots of younger pines in the area, it is also thick with flammable vegetation that thrives in the Lowcountry.
“The drought index is running high in Northwest Colleton County right now, and I can report bone-dry conditions there,” said Stuckey. “All the big ditches, water holes and bays are dry in that section. The plows worked from 4 p.m. until after dark around 9 p.m. to get the fire under control. The hot daytime air interacts with a fire of this size, increasing its intensity. A Northeast wind that day meant that we had to communicate with the tractor operators constantly to keep them safe from shifts in the direction of the fire.”
A hot fire can make its own weather, meaning that if it gets rolling fast, it sends out heated air in front of it, drying out the vegetation and making it easier to ignite. Another factor affecting this wildfire is the presence of organic material or duff layer present in the bays, sometimes known as a root mat. Once this material is set on fire, it can burn down into the ground beyond where a firebreak can reach, and it con continue to simmer until conditions change. Rainfall likely means an end to the smoldering, but hot and dry conditions could cause the fire to reignite.
“It’s been a week now since the wildlife, but we aren’t done watching this area and I have not marked this fire as closed,” said Stuckey. “A hot fire causes pine needles to get scorched, and they will quickly turn brown and fall to the ground. This adds new fuel on the ground that can drape across fire lines and possibly catch fire. Debris piles in the area from recent timber harvests are a concern, since they act as extra fuel to any wildfire. A combination of rain and some cooler weather would go a long way to calm down the current threat of wildfire.”

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (374 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com