As part of a long-term plan to restore the ideal conditions of the longleaf pine ecosystem within Hitchcock Woods, the Hitchcock Woods Foundation will implement its dormant season prescribed burning program this month.

While the burn program dates back to the mid-1980s, policy enhancements in recent years reduced smoke effects in the community. Even so, area residents could notice some smoke or the smell of smoke coming from Hitchcock Woods.

A carefully developed prescribed burn regimen is planned for the winter and the early months of spring.

If precipitation and other weather conditions permit, burns will be conducted in various sections of the Woods with cleared trails serving as control lines or firebreaks.

Nearly 900 acres have been identified for burning, but the actual acreage burned will depend on weather conditions.

The variety of targeted locales will give staff options based on weather patterns.

Hitchcock Woods Foundation staff work with a licensed contractor in conducting the burns.

Woods Superintendent Bennett Tucker, a volunteer firefighter for 10 years, including about nine years of experience with Aiken Public Safety, will conduct the burns alongside Eric Grande, another certified prescribed fire manager and Woods technician who has firefighting expertise and valuable skills in the prescribed burn process.

“As fire managers, we abide by smoke management guidelines established by the EPA, the South Carolina Forestry Commission and DHEC (Department of Health and Environmental Control) to ensure adequate smoke dispersal,” Tucker said.

“Our crew is composed of three South Carolina certified prescribed fire managers and at least two people who constantly monitor and patrol our firebreaks.”

The chosen burn area is prepared ahead of time with firebreaks. Tractors and a brush fire truck are put in place to deal with contingencies.

Public Safety also patrols the perimeter of the Woods to watch for any smoke accumulation on public roads. Signs informing the public of burn activities are posted at all formal entrances to Hitchcock Woods.

Prescribed burns also reduce fuel loads in the Woods, making them safer for the community and more productive ecologically for pyrophilic species.

“We conduct burns in the Woods for several different reasons, not only for hazard reduction, but also to benefit the flora and fauna of a longleaf pine ecosystem,” Tucker said.