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Officials prepare for largest prescribed burn in Pacific Northwest

This fall, crews will burn 15,000 acres of the Winema National Forest.

Posted: Jun 11, 2019 6:24 PM
Updated: Jun 11, 2019 6:49 PM

CHEMULT, Ore. -- Crews are wrapping up a successful prescribed burn in the Winema National Forest. Fire management officers are using fuel treatment techniques, like this burn, to help responders contain wildfires in the future.

Monday and Tuesday's prescribed burn is phase one of one of the largest planned prescribed burns in the Pacific Northwest, according to Dana Skelly, U.S. Forest Service's Regional Fuels Program Manager for the Pacific Northwest. 

Crews were up late Monday night burning 360 acres in the Winema National Forest near Chemult along Highway 138 to Highway 97.
They waited until the evening to begin because of the warm, dry temperatures we're seeing this week. Chemult Fire Management Officer, Ken Gregor, said although it was a long night, the burn was a success. The success is a step in the right direction for not only fire season, but the 15,000 acre Boundary RX burn scheduled this Fall.

The burn that was just completed will act as a secured fire line for Boundary RX. Gregor says RX has been in the plans for several years.

"This is just one tool that we have in the tool box, that gives us an opportunity to treat a much larger landscape that will help in the future for controlling fires that may occur in this footprint and/or over the border on the Crater Lake National Park."

Monday's prescribed burn was originally planned to be 500 acres. Fire officials said due to near-record high temperatures, they kept the fire on the west side. Therefore, fire managers were unable to complete the remaining 140 acres due to the unfavorable weather conditions.

Gregor said, "We feel good about what we've accomplished. We will wait for that little piece [the 140 acres] probably next spring."

Despite the heat, crews were able to successfully and safely burn the other 360 acres. 

Richard Pasquale, Chemult District Ranger in fire and fuels, said, "Everybody out here today and yesterday is really excited to be able to participate in the kick-off of such a large project."

Officials hope the RX completion will allow them to control and contain wildfires in the area.

"This here will give us a much better footprint to manage the fires in the future after we complete this project," Gregor said.

Beyond that, Pasquale said it's important to get fire back into these ecosystems.

"It's gonna help restore the natural characteristics of fire that were here, these trees are all adapted to live with fire, that's how a lot of them can reproduce. And the brush is more vibrant and the grass is greeener when they have the fire move through them," Pasquale explained. 

The boundary r-x burn is set to begin this fall and should only last a few days.

Smoke from the controlled burn this week is limiting visibility in the area. Forest Service officials said it could stick around for the next 24 to 48 hours. Visibility is down to about half a mile so the forest service is asking people to drive with their headlights on and use caution. 

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