Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Prescribed Fire

Yesterday this was the sight when I looked up at the mountain--lots of smoke rising into the air. If it seems a little late in the season to have a wildfire you're right, most of the wildland fires here occur from July through September, during monsoon season when we have a lot of dry lightning. This smoke is from a prescribed fire. Firefighters lit piles of slash on fire to reduce the fuel load in the woods. 

The idea of a prescribed fire is that the amount of fuel can be reduced safely, so that when a wildland fire occurs, it won't burn as hot and will be more controllable. Wildland fires used to occur a lot more often than they do now, probably because whenever we see smoke we (that's a societal we), tend to panic and want to make the smoke stop. As a result, in a lot of places throughout the West, the fuel load is so high that when a fire starts, it becomes a raging inferno and costs hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of dollars to put out. Spending a little more money setting prescribed fires in strategic locations will result in saving a lot of money trying to extinguish out-of-control fires.

Seeing the smoke up on the mountain brought back some memories for me.

Here's a different prescribed fire up on the mountain a few years ago. The firefighter (me) is wearing Nomex (flame retardant) pants and shirt, leather gloves, safety helmet, and leather boots. I'm carrying a drip torch, which allows fuel to be spread at a steady rate. 

Here's a safety meeting at the fire. Safety is of utmost concern at every fire. In order to have a prescribed fire, weather conditions have to be just right, enough fire-trained personnel have to be present including a burn boss (a person who has had additional training in setting and managing fires), and the paperwork all has to be signed.

Winter is a great time to have a prescribed fire, because the snow keeps the fire from spreading too far. The goal of this prescribed fire was to burn slash piles. The forest had been thinned a couple years earlier, and the wood stacked into large piles to dry out.

Having several piles rather than one enormous one helps keep the fire more controlled.

Nonetheless, there can be a little extra excitement from time to time, like this live tree catching on fire from the slash pile next to it. Not to worry, a firefighter is keeping a close eye on it.

Probably the best thing about being a firefighter is that you get to be close to fire and see the beauty of it. The colors are amazing, the heat is intense, and the smell takes you back to many evenings spent around the campfire.

Eventually the fire reduces the piles of wood to piles of ash surrounded by slightly melted snow. The next summer, the gaps in the forest will help slow or stop a wildland fire if it happens to occur there. If you're interested in learning more about wildland fire, check out the National Interagency Fire Center website.

1 comment:

The Incredible Woody said...

Wow! You are a firefighter, too?? Impressive!

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