Prescribed burning is critical to restoring health to densely overgrown forests and to protecting communities from the effects of raging wildfires. But when they are conducted in highly visible areas, the effects can be startling.
Two prescribed burns in high-visibility areas of Sisters Country in recent weeks have come under scrutiny, with some members of the public appalled at the sight of scorched trees with reddened needles and blackened trunks. Facebook lit up with comments expressing concern about an apparent lack of personnel on a burn near Indian Ford Campground and the results of a fire near the entrance to Camp Sherman.
In an interview with The Nugget on Thursday, Sisters District Ranger Ian Reid addressed the impact of the two burns.
Regarding personnel attending fires, Reid noted that fires are not manned overnight, when cool temperatures and rising moisture keep fires quiescent.
"We don't patrol prescribed burns overnight and we never have," Reid said. "If we have to patrol a prescribed burn overnight, we're burning in conditions that are out of prescription, frankly."
The burn boss inspected the Indian Ford burn area at 6 a.m. on Friday and all was under proper control.
What looks like dead trees are usually not; local ponderosa pine forests are fire-adapted and underburning is actually good for them, even when trunks get blackened and needles scorched. There is always some mortality on burns, within allowable specifications, but the majority of trees will eventually green up again and be strong and healthy. Allowable scorching height is usually set at about 15 feet above ground.
Reid said that the conditions on the Indian Ford burn were just what they were supposed to be.
"What I saw, the fire behavior was perfect," Reid reported. "What I saw on the east side was textbook."
An earlier burn in Camp Sherman last month did create some problems, Reid acknowledged.
The burn was set in the triangle of land where the road into Camp Sherman forks, with the right fork leading to the head of the Metolius and the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery and the left fork taking motorists into the Metolius Meadows residential area and Camp Sherman itself.
Along that left fork, the 1419 Road, the burn was too intense. Trees are scorched up to the top, with some scorching extending across the road, and some trees are severely blackened.
"Along the road, it burned hotter than we would have liked," Reid said.
A team of new lighters moved too fast under pressure to complete the burn within its allotted time window.
"We were going a little fast on our lighting," Reid said.
Smoke started impacting the road and the focus turned to traffic management and safety considerations.
"That was the primary focus," Reid said. "Some of our other objectives became secondary at that point."
The overall burn accomplished objectives. Unfortunately for all concerned, the part that burned too hot is the part that everybody sees.
"Visually, that's not what we want in there," Reid said. "It's a very visible spot... It's a visual kind of shock to drive in there and see all those red needles."
Reid said there will be a monitoring report on the mortality levels in the burn to determine if they exceed acceptable levels of zero to 2 percent for trees larger than 21 inches in diameter.
And he said that he thinks that visual impact in such areas needs to be incorporated into burn plans to prevent such areas from being so hard hit by a burning mishap.
Posted: Thursday, June 7, 2018
Article comment by:
I noticed that many of the prescribed burns on National Forest Land have a lot of fresh stumps and large piles of left behind branches (presumably from the logged trees). Though I understand that fire is a natural part of the cycle, I feel confused over the idea that intentionally setting fires outside of the natural fire season, potentially setting/controlling those fires with chemicals, cutting down trees, hauling the cut trees away, piling remaining branches up, and creating new roads to manage these prescribed areas is anywhere close to what would happen in a natural fire event. My understanding of a natural fire is that the trees and down wood burn during the time of year when nature deems it to happen. How is the current strategy actually mimicking nature by intentionally causing fires without leaving all of the trees and down wood in place? Isn't fire ecology about allowing the down wood and remaining trees to burn in place so that the resulting ashes can feed the current and future flora and fauna? Where is all the wood going?
Posted: Thursday, June 7, 2018
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"EXECUTIVE SUMMARY ON 2008 WIZARD FIRE" "On Thursday, September 25, 2008, a U.S. Forest Service prescribed fire near Camp Sherman, Oregon, escaped, resulting in 1840 acres of additional National Forest land being burned. The Metolius Research Natural Area (RNA) Burn Unit 61 was planned to treat 30 acres of natural fuels on National Forest Lands. Its escape and the resulting Wizard wildfire caused 1840 acres of National Forest land to burn. No private lands and no structures were damaged. No injuries occurred. The initial phases of the wildfire were managed by the Central Oregon Type 3 Incident Management Team (Incident Commander Wells) then transferred to the Oregon/California Interagency Incident Management Team (Incident Commander Paul). The Deschutes National Forest, Forest Supervisor convened a team of five people to conduct a review into the key causal factor s for this escaped prescribed fi re. The Review Team interviewed personnel associated with the implementation of the burn, and reviewed and examined written documentation of events and actions leading up to and immediately following the escape. The Review Team found that the ignition phases of the prescribed fire were conducted successfully, but the prescribed fire escaped sometime between the night of September 24 and 12:25 September 25, 2008 during the patrol phase. The principle causal factor of the escape stemmed from a lack of patrolling of the unit the evening or next morning following ignition. No agency policy was violated, however the prescribed burn organization failed to implement required operational procedures. A Prescribed Fire Burn Plan was prepared, approved and met policy requirements, but did not sufficiently address the mop up and patrol phase of the prescribed fire. There was no documentation or formal plan developed (which was supported by interviews) for mop up and patrol the following day. These are procedures which normally occur in the periods following ignition of a prescribed fire."