During the weeks of early spring — roughly February through April — there’s no better place to find smoke, and fire, than the rural paradise known as Bendabout Farms, a 4,000-acre throwback to slower days and simpler times that utilizes controlled burning to keep its forests healthy.
The farm’s controlled burning season is here. The annual event also goes by the name of “prescribed burning” because the professionally operated farm works closely with the Tennessee Division of Forestry, local fire departments and other emergency services to keep everyone in the loop as to the date, time and location for these strategic burns.
Recently, Bendabout Farms Manager Matt Bentley took the time to talk with Banner Managing Editor David Davis to provide detailed information about the burns in an attempt to take the fright out of passersby who might witness one of the controlled blazes. In a well-intended offer to help fight the fire, motorists at times will stop along the roadside thereby creating the potential for a traffic mishap.
Other motorists — again, in noble fashion — will call “911” to report the fire. Although firefighting stations, and 911, have already been alerted to the controlled burns, they sometimes must dispatch crews depending on the number of calls.
That’s why Bentley recently sought our newspaper’s help to tell the story of controlled burning, to assure area residents that all proper permits have been secured by Bendabout Farms and not to assume the worst if they come upon smoke or a blaze.
All prescribed burns are worked by Bendabout Farms staff who most often will be seen along the roadside in four-wheelers, pickup trucks or on foot. Sometimes they might not be visible from the highway, but they are there, Bentley assured.
The Bendabout Farms manager stressed motorists who call in the fires are just doing what any responsible person would do. They’re reporting what they believe could be a threat to surrounding woodlands, homes, wildlife and people. What they don’t know is Bendabout workers are managing the flames.
Prescribed burns help to control vegetation in order to promote the growth of open, piney woodlands with grass and herbaceous plants forming the foliage layer — aka “foliage understory” — beneath, and shaded by the main canopy of the forest. Prescribed burns remove the litter layer of pine needles and kill spouting hardwoods. Although hardwoods can’t survive frequent prescribed burns, pine trees do because of their thick layer of bark.
Bentley’s prescribed burns, which are keeping the pines but keeping out the hardwoods, are simply doing what Mother Nature coordinated before the arrival of highways and big lakes that now serve as natural firewalls. Back in the day, a lightning strike would accomplish the same goals that Bendabout Farms is now achieving through controlled burns, but is doing safely.
The problem with such fires is the human fear factor. People see smoke. Motorists witness fire. Panic ensues. And people do what people are supposed to do. They call 911.
Bentley contacted our newspaper simply to ask for help; that is, to alert distant neighbors and passersby, and the Cleveland and Bradley County community, that nothing is amiss. It’s a burn-by-plan routine that enhances forest health, and it’s done before the nesting season.
So, motorists who travel South Lee Highway, Old Chattanooga Pike, Old Alabama Road and Tunnel Hill Road might want to remember if you see smoke, it’s probably a fire. But more times than not, it’s controlled by the guys at Bendabout Farms who are serving as stewards of responsible forest and wildlife management.
They’re not going it alone. The folks at the Forest Service are aware of their every move.
And for the record, a typical prescribed burn at Bendabout will take place between noon and 5 p.m., and will cover 500 to 600 acres a day.
It’ll end sometime in April.
And the forest green will return like a spring perennial.