Are ‘Planned’ Forest Fires, Burns, Solution to Wildfire Problem?
At first glance, deliberately burning off grass or forest lands might seem outrageous, especially after the horrible fire season we've had. But some Oregon officials believe it's actually beneficial.
According to the Oregon Department of Forestry, controlled, planned burns actually help thin out dead or diseased trees, and prevent buildups of combustible materials that make fires actually hotter, more deadly and faster. Studies have shown keeping the forests more clear of burn fuel makes sense.
Thinning out and burning selected areas, or prescribed burns, will actually prevent fires in the future and help make ones that happen less deadly, according to the Department:
"Unlike wildfires, which occur under the worst of conditions, prescribed burns are conducted only when weather and wind patterns are optimal to carry smoke up and away from communities and popular recreation sites. And forest operators and wildland fire agencies staff the sites with fire engines and personnel to prevent the burns from spreading outside of designated burn units. "
They went on to say:
" The man who heads up ODF's firefighting program believes that significantly expanding Oregon's prescribed burning program would improve the wildfire situation.
"I'd like to see the 200,000 acres of annual prescribed burning double," said Doug Grafe, chief of ODF's Forest Protection Division. Three severe wildfire seasons in a row, 2013-15, have reinforced his fervor for forest fuel treatments via prescribed fire.
When a wildfire moves into a tree stand that has been previously thinned and excess shrubs and grasses removed, he said, the flames tend to stay on the forest floor. Wildland firefighters are able to attack a ground fire directly. But when a wildfire ignites in a stand where the trees are close together and brush is thick, it will likely move into the crowns and race through the stand. Direct attack is dangerous in this scenario, so fire managers must resort to air tankers and helicopters - effective, but costly tools. "
Officials also say forests loaded with high density, fuel-rich combustible materials can not only wipe out entire tree stands (large clusters of trees that often stretch for miles) these severe burns can greatly destabilize the soil - making it even harder to restore growth.
Pending approval and necessary permits (including from EPA) Oregon officials hope to increase prescribed burns for the next few years, to lessen future fire danger and help the forests rebuild faster.
No word if Washington officials are considering increases similar programs to prevent such catastrophic burns.