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Good Fire: Prescribed burn at Price Canyon Recreation Area will prevent wild fire later

Drip torch in hand and clad in protective gear, a member of the ignition team strides away from the blaze she has ignited.

Sun Advocate associate editor

Burn boss Matt Madariaga decided it was a go Friday morning. Every answer on his long checklist of criteria was "yes." The wind and weather were right, three woodlands fire trucks and backup water supply were on hand, and a trained interagency fire team was standing by.

So Madariaga, a regional fuels specialist with the Bureau of Land Management, said the time was right to torch 90 acres of brush at the Price Canyon Recreation area.

Before noon, flames were reducing undergrowth and deadfall to ash and sending a plume of smoke high into the sky.

The reason for this prescribed burn, and for future ones on the BLM's Recreation Area, is a buildup of pine needles, pine cones, shrubs and Gambel oak that are nothing more than fuel for a wildfire, Madariaga explained.

Getting rid of the debris on the ground makes it safer for the tall ponderosa pine trees that adorn the forest land around the campground.

Brad Washa, the BLM's state fuels specialist, said that the thick-barked "pondos" survived a bug attack that killed off other species about five or six years ago.

That thick bark also makes the tall trees fire-resistant to some extent. At least they won't be harmed by a carefully controlled fire, where fire hoses can keep the flames from spreading to the needles and branches.

Washa explained that the burning away of dead or unwanted low-level plant life is a good way of recycling nutrients in the soil. Those elements and minerals will nourish grasses that will grow in the shady areas below the pondos.

It does not take much to get 90 acres going up in flame. Cigarette butts and campfires do that all too often.

However, it takes some skill and planning to burn only 90 acres, no more, no less, and to burn only what plants have been targeted.

It takes a handful of ignition people, armed with drip torches loaded with a gasoline-kerosene mixture. The spouts of the torches dribble the flaming fuel on the small plants.

The igniters know the paths they are supposed to take, how far apart they should be from each other, and all are trained and equipped to handle mishaps.

In other words, this is no stroll in the woods, especially as the smoke begins to make the throat burn and eyes water.

Backwoods fire trucks follow the igniters, ready to send a stream of water out to protect them and the ponderosas.

There are also experienced and trainee fire fighters on hand from the BLM and Forest Service.

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