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Taking the burns out of Burns Park

The North Little Rock City Council on Monday night was informed that a control burn would be held in Burns Park at periodic times during the next two months.

According to a letter sent to the council and North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith, the burn is mainly needed to help prevent a major forest fire in Burn Park that could possibly spread to surrounding areas.

“The Parks and Recreation Department staff is partnering with the Natural Conservancy and Arkansas Forestry Commission to conduct the burn,” wrote Bob Rhodes, director of the North Little Rock Parks and Recreation Department. “Other city departments including police and fire will also be involved.”

Rhodes said the main objectives of the prescribed burn are to reduce hazardous fuel load such as grass weeds, leaves and litter; and well as ladder fuel which is more commonly known as saplings and vines.

Rhodes said the control burn would also prevent future wildfires, improve the habitat for the park’s resident wildlife and reduce undesirable vegetation species that are competing for nutrients such as water and sunlight with the native species.

“The Natural Conservancy and the Arkansas Forestry Commission and parks employees and experienced volunteers will assist away from fire lines to maintain safety,:” according to the letter.

Bert Turner of North Little Rock will serve as the prescribed burn boss, according to Rhodes. Turner is certified by the Arkansas Fire Council and U.S. Forestry Service to conduct such burns.

Rhodes said the Burns Park burn is expected to take place between late February and late March.

“The plan will be contingent on the weather,” Rhodes said. “Weather conditions – temperature, wind direction and strength, humidity, barometric pressure and ground moisture – all must be within the range specified in the prescription before we proceed. The actual dates of the burn may not be decided upon until a day or two before implemented and may last one to two weeks.”

The area in Burns Park selected for the burn mainly consists of forested areas bound by Interstate 40 on the north and east, the park boundary on the north and west, the soccer complex on the south, and the golf course on the south and east.

“Within the unit are most of the park’s multi-use, natural surface trails as well as the forested areas around the Covered Bridge, BMX track, RV Park, several pavilions, and several open grassy areas,” Rhodes said. “The area has been broken up into several sections to take advantage of natural fire breaks (roads, trails, creeks, etc.) and have better smoke and fire behavior management.”

Rhodes said because the park is located in an urban environment, it has not been burned in at least the past 40 years, leading to thick buildup of leaf litter and woody debris.

“The thick bed of debris on the ground and heavy growth of vines makes the area a tinderbox with a strong potential to create a very dangerous crown fire should a wildfire break out,” Rhodes said. “Additionally, the thick debris has inhibited growth of leafy forbs which make up a large part of the diet for many types of wildfire.”

In addition, the lack of control of non-native plant species has led to an unhealthy mix of small trees to large ones and created competition for plant food, minerals, sunlight and water.

For anyone having questions about the control burn, he or she can call the North Little Rock Parks and Recreation Department at 791-8540.

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