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Where there’s smoke: Tour of latest prescribed burn west of Bend includes health officials as impacts are monitored

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Hundreds of acres were set on fire west of Bend Wednesday as the U.S. Forest Service offered reporters a first-hand look at this year's stepped-up operation.

Members of the media, along with public health officials, took part in a prescribed burn tour.

"We're trying to re-introduce fire so it can play its natural role in the ecosystem," Deschutes National Forest Deputy Supervisor Kevin Larkin said.

Firefighters with the Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District conducted prescribed burns in the Deschutes National Forest on the Big Eddy units, west of Bend. The goal was to burn 300 to 460 acres, and they burned 468 acres before crews transition to mop-up, cooldown and securing the perimeter. 

Bend-Fort Rock District Ranger Kevin Stock said, "We're right up against the community. That's not by accident. That's on purpose, to protect those values of risk from from a surface fire being able to get to them."

Prescribed burns are done to improve forest conditions and reduce vegetation that can fuel wildfires. 

Larkin said, "We really want to emphasize that we're trying to protect the community against wildfire risk in the summer months."

The prescribed burning brought together prescribed fire professionals, land managers and public health officials, which included the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Deschutes County Public Health.

Larkin said the goal is "to help us work together to increase the pace and scale of prescribed fire on the landscape, while also making sure that we do what we need to to take care of public health as we go."

Efforts by the Health Department include educating people who are sensitive to smoke, letting them know how to protect themselves, by using air filters and closing windows. 

In previous years, firefighters burned about 200 acres west of Bend. This year, they're expected to intentionally set fire to about 1,500 acres before it's all done. 

Stock said, "A lot of thought that goes into our prescribed burning. What's the weather going to be like? What are the fuels conditions like? What's your staffing? Do you have enough staffing to be able to conduct the burns safely and be able to patrol it?"

Depending on the acreage from Wednesday, firefighters may return to Big Eddy on Friday to ignite about 100 more acres.


Article Topic Follows: Fire Alert

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Kelsey McGee

Kelsey McGee is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Kelsey here.


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