Tis the season for prescribed burns, and the Payson Ranger District is taking full advantage of optimal conditions to avoid a repeat of the catastrophic wildfires that ravaged the Rim country last summer.
Smoke has been visible the past two weeks from a number of small prescribed burns, and the district plans to initiate a much larger series beginning next week.
“We’re going to be doing some prescribed burns in the Christopher Creek, Hunter Creek and Colcord Road areas contingent on the weather and all the variables cooperating with us such as optimum temperature, humidity, wind speed, fuel moisture content and the whole bit,” said Gary Roberts, district fire prevention officer. “When we get these envelopes that are right for it, we really want to move on it because there is just so much out there to be done.”
The area that will be burned beginning next week is about 500 acres.
The goal of the prescribed burn is to reduce forest debris in the area from an estimated 20 tons per acre to 5 to 7 tons.
“Basically what we’re doing is called a broadcast burn, which means burning that debris off the forest floor,” Roberts said.
Smoke from the burn will not only be visible during the day, but is also expected to settle into “drainage” areas at night.
“During some times of the year, the smoke moves out,” Roberts said. “But this time of the year, it tends to sit there in the evening.”
The White Mountain Apache Tribe also announced a series of prescribed burns beginning yesterday (Thursday) and continuing “until the weather changes to winter conditions.” Locations include Corduroy Canyon south of Show Low (800 acres), Seven-Mile east of Whiteriver (100 acres), Turkey Creek southeast of Whiteriver (100 acres) Maverick east of Whiteriver (700 acres), Coyote West north of Whiteriver (50 acres) and Bonito Prairie southeast of Whiteriver (800 acres).
The tribe has burned nearly 26,000 acres this season, according to Chadeen Palmer, public information officer.
Among the prescribed burns in progress or recently completed is one in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest east of Woods Canyon Lake, one in the Coconino National Forest, one east of Cold Springs off FR198 and another on Mt. Ord to the southeast of Payson.
“There are different (prescribed burns) going on,” Roberts said. “We had a lot of calls yesterday from people wondering if there was a fire on Mt. Ord, even though it’s out of our district.
“People see smoke and they start panicking.”
Roberts said the Payson Ranger District was also inundated with calls regarding a lot of smoke to the east.
“That was a prescribed burn being done on the reservation.”
The heightened state of public awareness produced by the Rodeo-Chediski, Pack Rat and Five Mile fires is not a bad thing, according to Roberts.
“A season like we had this year is starting to get people’s attention,” he said. What people also need to understand is that prescribed burns are an effective way to reduce the chance of a repeat of last summer.
“I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but prescribed fire is a valuable management tool we use to reduce catastrophic wildfire danger,” Roberts said. “It also helps us to enhance forest health by basically reducing woody plant competition, accelerating debris decomposition on the forest floor, and stimulating nutrient release back into the soil to make it a more vital soil.”
Limited opportunities for prescribed burns last winter contributed to the tinderbox conditions that made the three wildfires so difficult to contain.