Crews plan controlled burns that could ease future smoke

September 16, 2018

FILE - In this Sept. 20, 2012, file photo, a thick haze of smoke from wildfires inundates downtown Yakima, Wash. Residents in Yakima and Kittitas counties in Washington state may again see smoke in September 2018 as authorities use small controlled fires to prevent the kind of big wildfires that caused weeks of unhealthy haze this summer. (Gordon King/Yakima Herald-Republic via AP, file)

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) — Residents in Yakima and Kittitas counties may again see smoke this month as authorities use small controlled fires to prevent the kind of big wildfires that caused weeks of unhealthy haze this summer.

Using fire to fight future fires, local, state, federal and Canadian firefighters will conduct strategic burning operations Sept. 24 to Oct. 5 on more than 900 acres of public and private land in central Washington.

“Prescribed fire is one of the best tools in our toolbox to stop living in dense wildfire smoke summer after summer,” said Holly Krake, U.S. Forest Service public affairs officer. “While it seems counterintuitive, part of the solution to the intense wildfire problem in eastern Washington is more fire, not less, and in the right ways and times.”

Prescribed burns are set intentionally to clear areas at risk for wildfires. If a wildfire does occur, it will have less fuel to burn and firefighters will have easier access.

Krake uses the analogy of backyard burning of debris. If the bonfire is supposed to be done every five to 30 years but that doesn’t happen for more than 100 years, the fire will be larger, hotter, more intense and pose a bigger threat to nearby areas.

Areas to be burned include 500 acres on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest near Cle Elum; 250 acres on lands managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in Yakima and Kittitas counties; 85 acres in the Central Cascades Forest managed by the Nature Conservancy; and 95 acres of private lands near Roslyn.

The burns are part of a training exchange so regional firefighters can learn first-hand about prescribed burning, forest health and working across agency boundaries. They also learn to use spot weather forecasts and other tools to predict days that will have wind to disperse smoke, causing the least effects for communities.

“This program makes sure that we can start to do this at a larger scale and make sure we have people trained to do prescribed burns,” said Nikolaj Lasbo, social and digital media manager for The Nature Conservancy.

Other prescribed burns are planned for the area starting in about two weeks, including the Naches Ranger District. Krake said on the day of a prescribed burn, the agency will post the location, potential smoke forecast and acreage for the fire by 9 a.m.

While the smoke from the prescribed burns may cause the air quality to decrease slightly, the health effects will be negligible and will not reach the unhealthy and hazardous levels seen this summer, Lasbo said.

Krake said there were no days where the air quality was at the unhealthy for sensitive groups level or worse during prescribed burns in the area last spring.

“The main thing to note coming off this really bad summer is how do you want your smoke and how bad do you want it to get?” Lasbo said. “Prescribed fires reduce fuel and reducing fuel means better air quality down the road in the case of a megafire.”


Information from: Yakima Herald-Republic, http://www.yakimaherald.com

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