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Thursday, May 23, 2024

WRC forester issued warning after June’s wildfire in Brunswick County

Ken Shughart, a regional forester with the WRC, was issued a warning ticket, according to N.C. Forest Service spokesperson Philip Jackson, for a controlled burn that grew into a wildfire that took almost two weeks to extinguish last month. (Courtesy photo)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — A prescribed burn conducted by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission that reignited into a wildfire in the Green Swamp Preserve in Brunswick County has been under investigation since last month. Now, state agencies have come together to decide who to hold accountable.

READ MORE: Forest Service launches investigation after week-long blaze in Brunswick

Ken Shughart, a regional forester with the WRC, was issued a warning ticket, according to N.C. Forest Service spokesperson Philip Jackson.

It’s a career first for the employee, according to Jackson, and also the only WRC employee to receive a warning in 2023.

“It’s not common,” Jackson said, who clarified employees cannot receive more than one every three years.

The spokesperson told PCD two weeks ago the agency has never separated an employee due to outcomes of a fire investigation.

Port City Daily asked for the investigation report; however, the document was not sent.

“The fire investigation report is not subject to public records law,” Jackson said, adding it’s covered under criminal investigations.

However, the spokesperson said costs incurred by the N.C. Forest Services to fight the fire will be reimbursed by the Wildlife Resources Commission. It totaled $350,000.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is required to assess an after-action review of the controlled burn with the N.C. Forest Service. The goal is to improve upon the prescribed fire program.

“This effort will help ensure the safest and best management practices are being used to manage wildlife habitat,” Jackson said.

The fire started after a controlled burn on 399 acres of land was conducted Tuesday, June 13, and extinguished the next day. By that Thursday the fire had reignited and the N.C. Forest Service took over manning it as it continued to grow. It burned nearly 16,000 acres for almost two weeks.

Firefighters attempted to manage the fire directly with tractor plows at first. Yet, that wasn’t successful “due to the wet nature and deep organic soils that exist within the Green Swamp Nature Preserve.” 

The brush in that area of the preserve collected fuels for 70 years, having not been burned since the 1950s. So crews began fighting fire with fire, using strategic operations to contain it. They dropped in aerial ignition devices to burn the vegetation and move the fire to the road’s edges, including Highway 211 set as the perimeter to better control and extinguish it.

The affected area of the preserve is already experiencing replenishment and growth. Fire-dependent plants and animals are commonly found in the Green Swamp Nature Preserve, including gopher frogs, pine snakes, pitcher plants, Venus’ Flytraps, longleaf pines, bog spicebushes and prairie warblers.

According to The Nature Conservancy, Green Swamp has at least 14 species of insectivorous plants, as well as orchids and long leaf savannas. All of them benefit from fires, as their roots are protected by even the hottest blazes. Flames knock back shrubby vegetation and allow light to hit the forest floor, so low-lying plant species can exist.

“The benefits of prescribed fire far outweigh the risks associated with the forest management practice,” Jackson told PCD previously. “Low-intensity, prescribed fires help improve wildlife habitat and promote healthier forests while reducing risks from wildfire.”


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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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