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Front Page » August 10, 2004 » Local News » Using Fire as a Tool
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Using Fire as a Tool

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Forest Service evaluates fire

The Link fire is being allowed to burn to reduce fuels in the area.

The forest service is using wildland fires as an effective tool for resource benefits. Two fires, one in Emery County and the other near Thistle have recently been left to burn while at the same time being carefully monitored. These two fires were caused by lightning strikes. The fire near Thistle has burned out with the help of some rain, it covered an area of 12 acres. This fire also ran out of fuel.

Mike Crawley, fire ecologist, said that as soon as a fire begins it is put through a Wildland Fire Implementation Plan (WIFP) assessment and if determined that wildland fire use is appropriate it will be implemented.

The other lightning caused fire began in an area called the Pines that is west of Emery City. The forest service is calling this the Link Fire. The fire is burning in Ponderosa understory through pine needles and dead logs. The first day, this fire was only one-tenth of an acre. By July 19, the fire had grown to two acres. A local wildland fire crew is in the area monitoring fire behavior and fire effects. Because of drying conditions, it is expect that several more acres will burn. Another assessment will be made if the fire size and activity threatens lives or property, or if the internal and external concerns such as smoke become an issue. Following this assessment, a decision will be made to either continue with the wildland fire use or to suppress the fire.

Crawley said the Link fire is being monitored every other day and is checked both on the ground and by air. Crawley explained that the Ponderosa pine in the area of the Link fire are extremely resistant to fire. They have adapted with thick bark to protect the tree from damage due to fire. Historic fires were common in the area now burning. The area was also described as a previously identified area where wildland fire would have benefits. The plan is evaluated every year to determine which areas on the forest could benefit from a potential fire.

If a fire occurs in any of these areas then they are monitored closely and not suppressed. Each fire is evaluated to determine if it poses a threat to any resource. "A number of aspects are assessed. We look at what harm a fire could do. We look at social values, visual sensitivity, wildlife habitat and forage. We ask the question, 'Is fire at this time the right thing for this area.' The Link fire has a moderate buildup of fuels. But, not heavy. We evaluate the fuel buildup as tons per acre. Cast off needle buildup can become heavy in an area and a light, frequent fire can be beneficial to burnoff this top layer of fuel. This helps to constantly reduce the litter which is good for forest health.

"The Link fire is burning in a mosaic pattern and leaving some areas untouched. The fire is close to the ground. In some instances on the Ponderosa pine the lower branches are burned off the tree and this is good for the prevention of a future fire from jumping into the tree tops where the trees are more susceptible to heavy damage. The burning of the lower branches doesn't seem to hurt them. The pattern the Link fire is burning is having an excellent effect. It is doing what a fire historically would have done in this natural setting.

Kim Soper, forest fire management officer, Mesia Nyman, district ranger, Alice Carlton, forest supervisor, and Fred Kaminski from the forest service monitor the Link fire near Emery.

"The Native Americans used fire as a significant tool. They would burn for the greenup and also again in the fall to encourage the return of grasses in the spring for their horses and also the buffalo. The forest service has gone through some changes from the policy of putting everything out to a more balanced approach. We reacted well to putting everything out and were very good at it. In the early days of settlement, the timber stands were of utmost importance for buildings and a fire could be devastating to the settlers. The Healthy Forest Initiative Restoration Act has given some good tools to the forest service.

"The forest service has also been working on fuels reduction projects where human habitation interfaces with the vegetation. There are many inholdings of private property within the forest land. A fuels reduction project is just being completed at Joe's Valley. We will go into an area and lower the density and spacing which reduces the likelihood that a fire would cause extensive damage. These types of projects only work if the landowners will clear their property and reduce brush and trees 150 feet away from their houses. Tree limbs should be off the ground at least 5 feet to reduce risks. Wood piles should be stored away from homes. Properties should be kept weedfree and gutters should be cleaned. Where possible shake shingle roofs should be replaced with a metal roof. Metal roofs prevent embers from finding a place to start a fire. The whole purpose of these preventative measures is to prevent a home ignition. We really have no control on private land, but we need homeowners to do their part.

"The Link fire is a dangerous place for people to be and we are encouraging them to stay out of the area. You never know when the fire might pick up or enter a high fuel load area and become extremely dangerous. A few of the aspen have burned, but they are really good at regenerating themselves. The fire is having a good effect. People see black and they automatically assume it is bad, but it is just burning the surface litter. People have been conditioned that if they see fire it should be put out. Smokey the Bear still brings a valid message that human caused fires are not good. There are places and times where a fire is not appropriate, but some natural fires are good; they are assessed as they occur and fire can play its natural role," said Crawley.

Crawley said some timbering will be going on in the beetle infested spruce. Any replanting of spruce will be evaluated and plans will be made accordingly. Any spruce taken out of a high value area such as a campground will probably be replaced. Most areas will be allowed a natural regrowth. A healthy forest has trees of all sizes and ages.

The Manti-LaSal National Forest allows wildland fire use in predetermined areas to achieve multiple resource benefits.While the destructive potential of wildland fire is evident, fire is likewise recognized as an essential part of forest ecosystem health. Many plant and animal species are dependent upon fire to create the exact conditions they need to flourish. Fire managers seek to strike a balance between suppressing fires that threaten lives or property, and allowing fire to be used as a tool to promote forest health. Fires such as these are considered beneficial, and are permitted to burn under specific conditions. Wildland fire use for resource benefit can occur when fire is ignited naturally (lightning) and is not human caused.

Over time, fallen dead trees, needles and other debris (fuels) have accumulated. Wildland fire use can be managed to burn in a natural way to reduce fuel build up and provide benefits to the resources until rain or snow storms put it out.

Fire specialists closely manage wildland fire use until the fire is declared out.

Ann King from the Manti-LaSal forest contributed information to this article.

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