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Front Page » September 2, 2008 » Carbon County News » Managed and prescribed fires cause undue concern for public
Published 2,300 days ago

Managed and prescribed fires cause undue concern for public


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

While state agencies, the Bureau of Land Management and the United States Forest Service try very hard to get the word out about prescribed or managed fires in an area, often people either don't see the notices or they ignore those notices when they see a blaze on public property.

When people don't know most report a fire, which is the right thing to do. The only thing is that it sometimes causes confusion, and slows down other processes when agencies are inundated by calls.

Prescribed fires are a common site in the local area, and sometimes managed fires are used to control fuels and undergrowth as well.

There is a definite difference between the two.

According to the USFS prescribed fire is used to approximate the natural vegetative disturbance of periodic fire occurrence. This vegetative management tool is used to maintain fire dependent ecosystems and restore those outside their natural balance. Generally, low intensity prescribed fire, is applied by trained experts to clear ground of dangerous fuels like dead wood and brush. This low-intensity fire is vital to the life cycles of fire-dependent range and forest lands.

Most prescribed fires are lit by crews using the drip torch, a hand-carried device that pours out a small stream of burning fuel. Other fires or burns are ignited by helicopters carrying a gelled fuel torch (helitorch) or a sphere dispenser machine that drops material to ignite the surface fuels in forest and range types.

Exactly how each unit is ignited depends on weather, the lay of the land, and the intensity of the fire needed to meet the goal of the burn.

Managed fires are a different kind of animal. These are fires that are generally started naturally, for instance by lightning, but are not immediately suppressed because the area in which they are burning was either under consideration for prescribed burning or it is an area where the fire won't really hurt much. Generally the idea is to use the fire to achieve resource management objectives in the area.

Managed fires are just that. The agencies involved keep someone or a crew close to the scene to watch the burn and make sure it doesn't go outside of designated boundaries or doesn't flare up due to weather conditions.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center more than 100 years of excluding fire (fire suppression), combined with past land-use practices, have altered the natural landscape in many places around the nation. This has resulted in changes such as a heavy buildup of dead vegetation, dense stands of trees, a shift to species that have not evolved and adapted to fire, and, occasionally, even an increase in non-native fire-prone plants. Because of these conditions, today's fires tend to be larger, burn hotter, and spread farther and faster, making them more severe, more dangerous, and more costly in human, economic, and ecologic terms.

The goal of the fire policy is to restore the natural balance by adopting land management practices that integrate fire into ecosystems as an essential natural process.

Fire, when managed properly, can be used to reduce the buildup of dead and downed trees and curb insect and disease infestations, while releasing and recycling nutrients essential for the growth and reproduction of many plant species.

In the end land managers must balance wildland fire suppression with the use of fire for resource benefit.

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September 2, 2008
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