Crater Lake park undertakes planned burning of 415 acres
September 28, 1999
By PAUL FATTIG
CRATER LAKE — More than 400 acres soon will burst into flames at Crater Lake National Park, and firefighters don’t plan to do much about it.
Not to worry.
The fire will be a prescribed burn carefully monitored after it is set by park officials on a designated 415-acre site in the northeast corner of the 183,224-acre park.
|Small fire will burn itself out CRATER LAKE — A small fire believed to have been sparked by a lightning storm in August is being allowed to slowly burn itself out about two miles west of the Watchman Fire Lookout Tower on the west side of the lake.The Equinox Fire, discovered on the fall equinox, Sept. 22, has burned only 2 1/2 acres.The slow-burning fire is expected to be naturally snuffed out when winter arrives in the high country in a few weeks.|
The goal is to reduce a potentially hazardous brush buildup while introducing what has been since time began a natural part of the ecological cycle, officials say.
Before 1977, the park avoided prescribed burns because fires were considered harmful. Since 1977, officials periodically experimented with planned burning. With the fire plan fine-tuned by a revised plan and supplemental environmental assessment this year, the prescribed burns have become a matter of policy, albeit one that will be used infrequently.
“They are trying to reintroduce fire as a part of the natural environment,” said Andy Peavy, a Forest Service employee temporarily assigned to the park as part of a fire overhead team.
“For thousands of years, fire has been a natural component of the ecosystem,” he added. “Most of these would be low-intensity fires that would burn the underbrush and return nutrients to the soil.”
That was before intense fire suppression began at the park in the 1930s, causing a dangerous buildup of flammable materials, officials said.
“For many years, fire was seen as a bad thing,” he said. “We had this `Smokey Bear’ ethic.”
But humans have come to understand that fire is part of the natural cycle which helps to create and preserve a healthy, vibrant ecosystem, he said.
“In places where we have oversuppressed fire, it has harmed the plant community,” he said, noting that many plants depend on low-intensity fires to clear away sunlight and water-consuming brush and provide nutrients.
Periodic low-intensity fires also remove the potential of catastrophic fires raging through heavy forests, he said.
Officials plan to ignite the fire over two or three days. It will be started only when it can be controlled, Peavy said.
“It’s ready to go now but they want to get some precipitation to bring fuel moisture up,” he said. “Once we have a little rain, once they light the fire, it can be controlled.”
Officials have to set the fire before winter arrives, he said.
“You can go from a nice summer day to snow on the ground the next day up here,” he said. “If that happens, they won’t be able to burn it this year.”
But it would also extinguish the Equinox Fire, which was started in the park by a lightning storm late last month, he noted.
“It’s barely crawling along now,” he said. “It doesn’t put up much smoke until the afternoon after it’s warmed by the sun.”
Like the prescribed fire, the Equinox Fire will be allowed to burn naturally, he said.
“But we have crews up there each day to monitor fire growth,” he said, adding that action would be taken if the fire threatened a valuable resource.