‘It’s preventative’: Deschutes National Forest offers rare up-close look at prescribed burn west of Sisters
(Update: Adding video, info from U.S. Forest Service, comments from public officials)
'We do this once every 20-30 years'
SISTERS, Ore. (KTVZ) – Sisters Ranger District firefighters conducted a 128-acre prescribed burn operation just west of Sisters Friday and gave reporters, elected officials and area residents a rare up-close look at how they are conducted, and how such burns help reduce wildfire threats in the heat of summer.
The prescribed burn took place down the road from Sisters High School. The boundaries of the burn were Forest Service Road 15, Highway 242, Edgington Road and Forest Service Road 1505.
Small fires were lit across the forest to help reduce the fuels that can turn a small fire into a roaring, threatening conflagration.
Sisters Mayor Michael Preedin said it was his first time to see a prescribed burn, and he knew the benefits they bring.
"We do this once every 20, 30 years, on different parcels," he said. "And we have to do it so we don't have a month of wildfires right outside the city of Sisters. It's preventative."
While setting small fires might seem counter-productive, they're actually used to prevent a larger wildfire from coming later on.
Deschutes National Forest Public Affairs Officer Kaitlyn Webb says small fires burning their surroundings help prevent a major fire from natural causes.
"Once we have gone through and thinned an area, we are making that area much more resistant to wildfire in the future, whether that be a lightning strike, a natural cause" or another cause, she said.
The prescribed burn was an opportunity for elected officials, community stakeholders and the media to gain an understanding of how wildfires burn.
Deschutes County Commissioner Phil Chang was also in attendance.
"One of the things about prescribed fire is, it is one of our most effective tools for reducing fuels and keeping our community safe from fire," he said. "It's really important to be able to explain to people that that smoke is worth it -- for the avoided, catastrophic fire later."
Personnel came from as far away as Juneau, Alaska, where they may deal with wildfires in the Tongass National Forest, the largest in the country.
The burn required resources for several hours, as flames were left burning, to reduce the threat in the months to come.
Sisters District Ranger Ian Reid said the burn would continue to be mopped up throughout the evening.
"This burn will be left tonight in a good place," he said. "They'll be out here patrolling the burn, mopping it up, basically making sure it's secure before all of the resources are released."
Here's some of the information distributed before the burn, as is done on others across the region:
Residents in Sisters may see smoke from the prescribed burn for as long as another week.
Firefighters use weather and wind conditions to help minimize smoke impacts to roadways and communities. Smoke will be visible from the town of Sisters, the Crossroads and Tollgate subdivisions and surrounding areas. Smoke impacts may occur on Highway 242, Edgington Road and Forest Service Roads 15 and 1505. Flaggers and signage will be implemented as needed.
Prescribed burning reintroduces and maintains fire within a fire-dependent ecosystem helping to stabilize and improve the resiliency of forest conditions while increasing public and firefighter safety. Once firefighters ignite prescribed burns, they monitor and patrol the units until they declare the burn out.
Prescribed burns can protect homes from tragic wildfires. Fire management officials work with Oregon Department of Forestry smoke specialists to plan prescribed burns. Prescribed burns are conducted when weather is most likely to move smoke up and away from our communities. Sometimes, weather patterns change, and some smoke will be present during prescribed burns.
What does this mean for you?
During prescribed burns, smoke may settle in low-lying areas overnight.
- All residents are encouraged to close windows at night to avoid smoke impacts
- When driving in smoky areas, drivers should slow down and turn on headlights
- If you have heart or lung disease, asthma, or other chronic conditions, ask your doctor about how to protect yourself from smoke
- Go to centraloregonfire.org to learn more about smoke safety and prescribed burning in Central Oregon
For more information on prescribed burning in Central Oregon, visit centraloregonfire.org/ and for information specific to the Deschutes National Forest visit www.fs.usda.gov/deschutes. Follow us on Twitter @CentralORFire. Text “COFIRE to 888-777 to receive wildfire and prescribed fire text alerts.