The Forest Service often talks about using thinning and prescribed fire for “fuels reduction” and forest restoration – but in recent years, wildfires that crossed paths with these treated areas have provided vivid demonstrations of how these treatments not only improve forest health, but also reduce the intensity and challenge of containing later wildfires, improving public safety and firefighters.
In mid-July, a lightning storm passed through southern Oregon, igniting multiple fires in the drought-stressed forest in and around Crater Lake National Park. Firefighters quickly contained most of these fires, but several grew together and became the Timber Crater 6 Fire. It was projected to grow as large as 20,000 acres. But earlier fuels treatment projects conducted in the area allowed firefighters to pursue an aggressive full-suppression strategy, which kept the fire to just 3,100 acres.
Over the years, the Fremont-Winema National Forest and Crater Lake National Park have worked collaboratively on a variety of thinning and prescribed burning projects in the Antelope Desert area of the Chemult Ranger District.
The Timber Crater 6 Fire was burning in an area with heavy fuels with few breaks where firefighters could work safely. Fire behavior can be extreme under these conditions. But, the nearby treated areas gave firefighters safe ground to operate and respond under more favorable conditions. The treated areas were critical in keeping the wildfire shorter in duration, less costly, safer for firefighters, less threatening to private property, and with few smoke and economic impacts to local communities.
Often, firefighters need to do significant preparation before starting a burnout operation, including removing trees, chipping, and digging fire lines. The burned area, now cleared of potential fuels, can then serve a “fire break” against a advancing, larger fire.
Because the treated areas required little prep work, crews were able to move in quickly to conduct a burnout operation, and confining the most dangerous part of the fire and removing fuels in its path.
In less than three weeks, the Timber Crater 6 fire was confined to just 3,126 acres and many firefighters were freed up early to move on to other fires.
Old-growth Ponderosa pine trees were protected from high-intensity wildfire, no community evacuations were required, and this fire did not contribute to the longer duration smoke impacts that occurred across the region this season.
The Timber Crater 6 fire demonstrates the value of fuels treatment projects. Many areas across the Pacific Northwest, especially in the wildland urban interface, need thinning and prescribed burning to improve forest health and reduce wildfire risk.
That’s why the Forest Service is working closely with state partners and local communities to increase the number and size of these fuels reduction projects in conjunction with efforts to strengthen fire-adapted community preparedness.
Source information: USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region staff