Is That Fire? Controlled Burn at Gilberts Corner

UPDATE: The conditions this winter and early spring were not good for a burn (wind, snow, humidity, cloud cover, ect). The burn is now planned for fall of 2016.

In the fall of 2013, The Piedmont Environmental Council was given a 141-acre farm at the southeast quadrant of US Route 50 and US Route 15 in Loudoun County, known locally as ‘Gilberts Corner’.

We then set about working to preserve the area’s historic and scenic landscape, to restore the property’s degraded streams, enhance wildlife habitat, and reinvigorate its agricultural use.

Our acquisition and future plans for the property are part of a larger initiative at Gilberts Corner that has included the installation of the Route 50 traffic calming improvements, the establishment of the 155-acre Gilbert’s Corner Regional Park on the north side of Route 50, and the creation of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area.

As part of the restoration of the farm, PEC is planning a controlled or prescribed burn of approximately 20 acres located at the property’s northwest corner, within the triangular area bounded by Route 50, Route 15, and Howser’s Branch Drive.

For more than a decade, this area has been left fallow and is now unusable for agricultural production due to invasion by red cedar and non-native invasive species such as Japanese honeysuckle, multiflora rose, and autumn olive.

The prescribed burn has many benefits: it will control these invasive species without the use of herbicides, put nutrients back into the soil, avoid the soil compaction that would occur if the land was mechanically cleared, facilitate PEC’s management of the area for agricultural production, and reduce fuel accumulation that could lead to a more intense and potentially dangerous wildfire.

The burn, which will be performed by Virginia Department of Forestry (DOF), is planned for the winter of 2016, though the precise date is dependent on appropriate wind and weather conditions.

DOF staff have extensive experience and training conducting prescribed burns and they have prepared a Prescribed Burn Management Plan for the burn at the farm. This plan includes creating a fire break around the perimeter of the 20 acre area and, among other safeguards, only commencing the prescribed burn when weather conditions–notably wind speed and direction–are favorable.

DOF and PEC have consulted and are coordinating the burn with the Loudoun County Fire Marshal’s Office, Loudoun County Department of Fire and Rescue, and the Sheriff’s Office.

Following the prescribed fire, the field will be cleared of any debris and will be planted in a cover crop to inhibit soil erosion. The field will be available to be leased for agricultural use in 2017.

Questions? Contact:
Celia Vuocolo
Wildlife Habitat & Stewardship Specialist
The Piedmont Environmental Council
(540) 347-2334 ext 7086