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U.S. Forest Service on Big Tree Fire

By Harold Bearden
Saturday, October 24, 2015 | 2:10 PM

Dave Cassey Michael Cook Michael Heard

The U.S. Forest Service held a news conference Saturday morning in Double Springs to update information on the fire in the Bankhead Forest Sipsey Wilderness Area.  Dave Cassey representing the U.S. Forest Service, Bankhead Forest, began the briefing by introducing Michael Heard, Incident Commander on the Big Tree Fire and Michael Cook, resource adviser and Bankhead employee. 

Cassey stated there were not many fires in the wilderness, thus the present fire was very important because of the size and where it was located. As of Saturday morning, over 1900 acres had burned from a fire believed to have started by lightening. That is approximately 6% of the total acreage of the Sipsey Wilderness. 

Public safety was the number one concern for the Forest Service.  Many of the hiking trails have been temporarily closed until the fire situation is over. 

Working in a Congressionally designated wilderness area places restrictions on the 75 firefighters on how they fight the fire. No motorized or mechanized vehicles are allowed, thus no bulldozers can be used to cut fire lines. Special permission was obtained to utilize leaf blowers to clear existing trails to act as a fire breaks as well as cross cut saws and pruners. Sometimes that worked, sometimes it did not, according to Cassey. 

Over the years, the U.S. Forest Service has adapted and changed the way forests are managed. They have learned that fire is not the enemy once thought, and fire is actually good for clearing and affording space for new growth. It is now considered environmentally friendly, to an extent, to let the fire burn in certain areas. Natural breaks are being used such as streams and natural terrain.

One place everyone was in agreement where fire should not reach, was the Big Tree, the largest and tallest Poplar in Alabama. The firefighters were successful in keeping the fire away from the tree. 

Even though the present fire is a low intensity fire, it is the first major fire in the Bankhead in over 50 years. There have been smaller fires of several acres in those years, but they were all quickly suppressed. 

Forecast rain in the next few days should aid the firefighters and help end the fire.

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