Forest agencies plan underburns
October 25, 2001
By PAUL FATTIG
Fire season may not be over yet, but don’t expect fire engines to chase every plume of smoke rising in the local forests this fall.
Most plumes, if not all, will be coming from prescribed burns.
“Before we do anything, we always identify what we may need – fire crews, engines – and verify those forces are available before we do anything,” explained Tom Murphy, fire management officer of the Bureau of Land Management’s Medford District.
And that’s after determining that the planned burn isn’t likely to escape, he said.
Each fall, the BLM and other agencies burn slash piles, or “underburn,” in some heavily forested areas in an effort to reduce accumulations of dead and downed vegetation.
The underburns, allowed only if weather and fuel conditions permit, are low-intensity fires that will recycle nutrients into the soil as well as remove deadwood.
The projects return fire to its natural role in the ecosystem, Murphy said, noting it also reduces the threat of a catastrophic fire come summer.
The district plans to use understory burning on up to 300 acres this fall.
“But we’re still waiting for the weather to cooperate,” he stressed. “If we get some rain, as long as it’s not too much, we may be burning some in the Illinois Valley late this week.”
Some burning is also expected on BLM projects in the Applegate Valley and the Butte Falls area this fall.
“We’ve got quite a lot of hand piles to burn,” Murphy said. “We’ll start those when we get several inches of rain. But we’ll have to wait for a storm pattern to develop before we try to burn those.”
More underburning is expected on the district this spring, he said.
Slash piles will be torched in the Prospect and Applegate ranger districts in the Rogue River National Forest this fall, but officials there are waiting for wetter weather.
High in the Crater Lake National Park, where snow dusted the area earlier this week, the National Park Service plans to burn slash piles in the south end of the park.
But that also depends on the weather, said Craig Letz, the park’s fire management officer.
“We’re trying to restore the natural role of fire in this ecosystem, and also reduce fuel accumulations,” he said.
Because of the park’s higher elevation where winter arrives early, officials already have burned about 630 acres, Letz said.
“That went real well,” he said. “We were able to minimize the smoke impact.”
The park service is also studying the impact of the prescribed burns to determine if the practice is meeting its intended goals, he said.
“The fires that were burned last Friday and Saturday are not dead out,” he said. “They are still smoldering. But we’re watching them.”
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org