LETTER TO THE EDITOR: How the U.S. Forest Service decides on a controlled burn
We’ve had good conditions for prescribed fire, so I thought I’d share some insights into how the Forest Service decides whether to proceed with a prescribed fire.
In California, the California Air Resources Board makes the initial burn day determination and counties can further restrict this. In Nevada, we work with the Department of Environmental Protection. These agencies are looking at air quality, and while these approvals are critical, they’re just one step.
Well before the operation begins, we’ve made extensive preparations. We set the unit boundaries and establish the firefighting resources needed on scene. Based on fire modeling and the judgment of fire professionals with years of on-the-ground experience, we determine the weather and fuel conditions necessary to proceed safely and effectively. From this, we develop a prescription we must stay within.
Prior to proceeding, we monitor detailed local weather forecasts. Among our considerations are safety, smoke management and desired fire behavior, fuel moisture and predicted fuels consumption.
One thing we’re looking for is enough wind to carry smoke up and out, reducing impacts on local communities. It’s a balance to have enough wind to carry smoke away, while not having so much that we exceed our burn prescription. I understand how the sight of fire burning under windy conditions can be concerning to residents who remember the high winds that fueled the Angora fire. However, at this time of the year, piles are surrounded by snow, a natural barrier to fire’s spread. Making progress now on reducing fuels means less risk in the summer when the wildfire threat is real.
We also monitor operations. If conditions change, crews may extinguish the piles to prevent excessive smoke or keep the burn within prescribed limits.
Always, the safety of our firefighters and the local community is our overriding concern.
Acting Forest Supervisor
U.S. Forest Service, Lake
Tahoe Basin Management Unit
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