Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Prescribed Burn (MNA April 07)

National Forest Service uses fire to fight fire
Associate Editor

To prevent an uncontrollable forest fire, the National Forest Service does exactly what they are trying to prevent – they start a fire. Their goal is to actually burn the fuel that such a fire would feed on. It’s called a “prescribed burn,” or “prescribed fire.”
“We have to wait for the right conditions, the right weather,” says Ramona DeGeorgio-Venegas, who was one of the local Forestry Service personnel who was on hand for a prescribed burn in the Manistee National Forest along Udell Road. Prescribed fires are carefully planned in advance, long before ignition happens. This was the fourth attempt at finding the right conditions for this particular burn.
The temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, and the projection for rain all were right for the burn which happened last week. Fire is a natural part of many ecosystems on the Huron-Manistee National Forests.
Ecosystems such as jack pine forests evolved with fire. Modern firefighting altered the natural cycle of fire that maintained these valuable habitats. As a result, many plants, birds, and insects have become rare or endangered.
Fuel management is an important part of the forests’ fire program. Fire is used to eliminate “hazardous fuel loads along the ground, especially in the pines and mixed hardwoods,” according to DeGeorgio-Venegas. “There are a lot of leaf litters that are down from last fall.” Presribed fire consumes available fuel, reducing the potential for catastrophic wildfire.
The burn last week was part of a project which has been ongoing for four years. Small chunks of the burn area are set fire as conditions permit. “We did this piece four years ago, and we only burned about 20 acres last fall. It went out and we stopped, so now we’re back today,” said DeGeorgio-Venegas. “There’s a very short window between when we can burn and when we have our fire season.”
The fire is highly controlled, with an assortment of personnel on hand and clear boundary lines to ensure that everything goes according to plan. Besides fire crews, bulldozers are on hand to control fires, and the whole process is monitored via a fire plane circling overhead. The safety of drivers along fire area roads is also taken into account. “We have to try to not have problems with visibility from the fires (and smoke they generate),” says DeGeorgio-Venegas. “Safety is our number one priority, both for the public and for our firefighters.”
Local firefighters for the forest service had help from some of their counterparts from out west with the burn. “Firefighters are from the Huron-Manistee National Forest,” said DeGeorgio-Venegas. “There’s also some from region one out in Montana, as part of the hot-shot crew, and jumper crew. They don’t have fires out west as much until later in the summer. We try to do our prescribed burning before our fire season. So they come out from Missoula.”
According to the Forest Service, fire in the ecosystem is a natural and revitalizing process. This particular one day burn had a goal of accomplishing at least 60 percent of the fuel load. “Then we won’t have to come back,” said DeGeorgio-Venegas.
Cean Burgeson can be reached at: cburgeson@pioneergroup.net

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