Pulling Away

Upson County, Georgia
Oil on canvas
30 x 42 in. (76.2 x 106.7 cm)

Private collection

A newly-lit prescribed fire consumes a surface layer of pine needles and leaf litter as it pulls away from a narrow firebreak on a steep slope above the Flint River. It leaves an arresting scene in its wake. Beneath a clear blue March sky, smoke billowing from a deep layer of smoldering organic matter, known as “duff,” appears almost snow-like in contrast to the glowing flame front and dull ember of sunlight. As ignition continues down the hill, smoke fills the air and fire rapidly blackens an ever-widening area, further securing the narrow “handline” where the fire crew has raked away the duff to expose nonflammable rock and soil.

Conducted by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and partner organizations on private property near the Sprewell Bluff Wildlife Management Area, this fire was designed both to control unwelcome hardwoods and to reduce the heavy layer of duff that had accumulated over decades of fire suppression. Duff must be diminished slowly over the years by repeated “cool” fires such as this one so as not to harm the established longleaf pines. For that reason, this burn followed soon after a rain. Eventually hotter prescribed fires will be welcome as this montane longleaf ecosystem returns to a more historic duff-free, and hardwood-free, condition.

The painting is based on numerous photographs and a short video I made while participating on the burn in 2011.

Update: In December 2023, after two decades of ecological restoration with prescribed fire, a major milestone was reached at Sprewell Bluff. The Georgia DNR released six red cockaded woodpeckers into a region in which they had been absent for half century. The achievement was reported on by Grant Blankenship on National Public Radio.

Further information: Rx Fire at Sprewell Bluff Natural Area – (YouTube) and Commitment to Conservation at Sprewell Bluff WMA – Georgia Wildlife Blog

For a limited time, Pulling Away can be purchased as an 12×18 in. fine art print by the Ace Francisco Gallery in Athens, Georgia. It can be ordered from them here.

Pulling Away appears on the cover of the 2023 album Fall Line by the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies. Order here.

Exhibition History