Many college students tend to want to spend their spring breaks going to the beach and partying or at the very minimum going home to visit family and not think about school work for a few days. Last year though I broke the norm by spending my spring break in a college class. Not any normal class though, at Warnell they offer spring break prescribed fire courses. In this class I got to earn my red card, which certifies me as a wild land firefighter type II, as well as spend the entire week in an in depth hands on fire course. During this course we talked about the benefits of prescribed fire in our ecosystems. As well as see it first hand in practice at the Savannah River site where UGA does experiments to get a better understanding of fire’s role in our forests and how to better manage them for greater species diversity. We walked through different forest during the week looking at the after effects of fire on the forest, which when done properly is a beautiful thing. You could see how the fire adapted species were thriving in forests that have been burned on 2-3 year cycles for years now. The best part of the course was that we got to actually assist professional fire fighters in the process of prescribed burns. We got to use drip torches, fire rakes, shovels, and even huge fire trucks built for wildfires!
Probably one of my favorite experiences from the week was getting to set a stand of trees on fire that hadn’t been burned for 10-12 years and was thick with underbrush and needed a burn badly. It was a mess but due to the perfect conditions of the weather that day we got to burn it. Watching the stand go from a choked up mess of vines and hardwood sprouts up under a bunch of pines, to being a cleared out neat pine stand in a matter of hours was awesome. The professors were also a great help in explaining how the ecosystem such as long leaf pine and wire grass were all fire dependent and that without fire these species would be out competed Not only that but the fire which was once a norm in Georgia and the coastal plain ecosystem was also restoring critical habitat for endangered species such as the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker and Gopher Tortoise. The best part was all of this fun hands on experience counted as credit towards our degree similar to many Warnell classes. Not only that but it gave us hands on experience for future jobs by getting us firefighter type II certified. It was honestly one of my favorite breaks I’ve ever had and definitely my favorite class at Warnell.