“Some places in North Central Washington have been inundated with smoke,” said District Ranger Michael Liu. “Fire management officers on both districts will be taking a close look at weather patterns, looking for windows of opportunity for burning when smoke is most likely to lift and disperse.
Air-quality impacts caused by recent wildfires, extremely dry conditions in the woods, and the workload caused by ongoing fire suppression and rehabilitation efforts in the greater North Central Washington area will all factor in to decisions made about what types of prescribed burn treatments will occur this fall.
“It is a balancing act,” said Liu. “Prescribed burning is an important aspect of the work we do to reduce the size and intensity of wildland fires. In fact, spread of this summer’s Leecher Fire onto state and private lands was limited by vegetation and fuel treatment projects that the Methow Valley Ranger District has implemented.”
The two projects that limited the spread of this summer’s Leecher fire were the Leecher Timber Sale and the Yockey Prescribed Burn. Leecher Timber sale included both thinning and underburning on about 300 acres. Yockey Prescribed Fire treatment area included underburn treatments on about 6,000 acres over the past seven years. These treatments helped limit fire behavior once the fire reached the top of the ridge and provided safe anchor points for crews. The Leecher Fire spotted into these treated areas, but firefighters responded quickly and the spot fires were safely contained, even with the limited resources available. Had the area not been treated, the burning embers cast out to create spot fires would have generated higher-intensity fires that would have been more difficult to manage.
Methow Valley Ranger District will focus this fall’s burning program on brush piles rather than underburning. Several areas on the district, including Cub, Fawn, McFarland and Eightmile Creeks have brush piles made up of the thinning slash from forest treatments. Pile burning on the Methow Valley is expected to begin later in October or in November, after enough precipitation has fallen to diminish the fire hazard.
On Tonasket Ranger District, prescribed burns are planned in the Peony Creek, Bannon Mountain, Cape LaBelle, and Mt. Anne areas. These underburns will reduce slash left behind from thinning treatments. Two of the treatments planned for Bannon Mountain are designed to prepare the site for tree planting in the spring.
Each day, before burning, Fuels Specialists will evaluate air quality impacts to determine whether underburning can occur. If conditions are right, fire officials will request permission to proceed from the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in Olympia. The daily decision about whether to burn piles will abide by the smoke approval agreement for silvicultural burning administered by DNR.
Prescribed burning is one of the tools used to reduce existing forest fuel accumulations in an effort to reduce wildfire potential and improve forest health. The prescribed fire program is intended to improve the safety of the public and wildland firefighters, minimize the size and intensity of wildfires, and create healthy forested habitats. Additional benefits of prescribed burning include habitat restoration, maintenance of species diversity, stimulation of forage for browsing species, and return of nutrients to the soil.
The program emphasizes treatment in areas of the National Forest that are nearest private lands and those lands managed by other agencies. Lower to mid-valley elevations are of highest concern. The prescribed burning program is part of the comprehensive Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Restoration Strategy. Forest Service managers began implementing the strategy in 1999 to reduce the threat of uncharacteristically severe fires and bring resiliency to unhealthy forest ecosystems.
To get involved with prescribed fire planning efforts, please contact Meg Trebon at the Methow Valley Ranger District or Jen Croft at the Tonasket Ranger District. To speak with a prescribed fire specialist or obtain updates during the burn season, please call the Districts’ Prescribed burning information lines. Methow Valley’s 24 hour prescribed burning information line is 509-996-4040 and Tonasket’s is 509-486-5158. Ignition updates are also posted on twitter at www.twitter.com/OkaWenNF.
The Washington State Department of Natural Resources regulates smoke management and must approve all controlled burns on national forests within the state. Okanogan-Wenatchee N.F. fire specialists closely coordinate with the state’s air quality managers, after they receive burn approval.