RYAN TOWNSHIP, Pa. -- Hundreds of acres were on fire Wednesday in Schuylkill County, but this was all by design. It's a tactic used to help wildlife thrive.
If you were traveling along Interstate 81 near Mahanoy City, you may have seen a large cloud of smoke and what appeared to be a big brush fire.
But off the beaten path in Ryan and Blythe Townships, this was all by design -- a controlled burn that required meticulous planning.
"The amount of training that these guys go through that are working on the crew here, it's hours and upon hours upon hours," said Andy Weaver, a field forester with the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
The Game Commission had a prescribed burn of nearly 300 acres in this part of Schuylkill County on a piece of State Game Lands.
"Fire is a natural tool that we use on the landscape to manipulate the habitat types that are out here. We're doing this to kind of restore this barren habitat type. Barren is more of an open landscape setting. Over time, the forest kind of takes over and we want to restore the scrub oak, the pitch pine, and some of the other oak species that are here," explained Steve Ferreri, land management supervisor for the Game Commission.
These controlled burns can essentially get rid of plants and vegetation that don't serve the natural habitat well, further allowing better species to survive and thrive.
"We're managing for the habitat, so we're managing the vegetation for the wildlife," said Weaver.
The Game Commission says this area will be green and luscious within the next couple of weeks. These prescribed burns also help limit future wildfires.
"Leaves, debris, it builds up. If you would get a wildfire in there, it would be a very intense fire. By us doing a prescribed fire, it reduces those fuel loads. It's not going to outright eliminate the chance of a wildfire down the road, but if there would be a wildfire in this location, where we're doing this prescribed burn today, the fire behavior is going to be a lot more reduced," said Ferreri.