Burning operations are expected to start as soon as weather and fuel conditions permit (anticipated to be mid to late-March), and will continue for several weeks.
The Washington Butte prescribed burn area is located between the Washington Creek and Antoine Creek drainages. The overall objective of this 250-acre burn project is to use low intensity fire to create mosaic patterns across the landscape. These patterns will create a discontinuity of fuels that will help reduce the severity of future fires.
The Forest Mountain prescribed burn area is located on the Barrett Creek side of Forest Mountain. The area was partially burned in the 1994 Tyee Fire, so there is a mixture of surviving older trees in addition to natural and planted tree regeneration in this area. The protection of these remaining trees, through the use of low intensity prescribed fire to remove fuel accumulations, is the primary objective of this burn. Approximately 500 acres are planned for ignition.
Prescribed fires will also occur in Purtteman Gulch, including portions of the Echo Ridge Nordic Ski area. The goal for these burns is to create a more diverse landscape where trees are less susceptible to catastrophic wildfires and to decrease the high amount of natural fuels on the forest floor that have potential to feed future wildfires. Burning could occur on 100 acres in Purtteman Gulch.
The majority of smoke from these burns is expected to dissipate to the north and east of the burning operations with some smoke settling in valleys at night. Smoke will be visible from Chelan and Manson. Travel on Forest Service roads may be interrupted for very short periods of time; all affected roads will be signed prior to any ignitions.
All Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest controlled burns are weather-dependent, meaning there is a certain set of weather conditions including relative humidity, temperature, winds, and fuel moisture that must be met before burn ignitions begin. The prescribed fire burn boss will cease burning as soon as possible, if objectives are not being met or weather conditions turn unfavorable.
Washington State Department of Natural Resources regulates smoke management and must approve all controlled burns on national forests within the state. After they receive burn approval, Forest Service fire specialists closely coordinate with Washington State air quality managers.
The burns are 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 forest ecosystems.
A carefully planned prescribed fire program provides many benefits that enhance the health of an ecosystem. The most common objective is to reduce and manage the amount of ground fuels (such as dead logs and tree limbs), thereby lowering the likelihood of potentially large and severe wildland fires. Fuel reduction can also help prevent the possibility of crown fires that burn to the tops of trees at high intensity and are difficult to manage. When future wildland fires do occur, these fires will be less intense, will tend to be surface fires, and will be easier to manage following a prescribed burn.
There were many success stories of how past prescribed fire treatments made fighting last fall’s lightning caused fires more manageable for firefighting personnel. Fire behavior within the treated areas was limited to low intensity surface fires, where firefighters were able to successfully suppress spot fires. Had these areas not been treated, higher intensity fires would have been more difficult to manage.
For updated information on the prescribed burning program, please call the Chelan Ranger District office at (509) 682-4900.