Firefighter Training with Controlled Burns, a Collaborative Project

Every year in spring when the winds pick up and the land dries out, residents in Lincoln County understandably get a little nervous as fire danger increases. We have been lucky that the conditions in 2013 and 2014 have provided a bit more moisture then the conditions in 2012 which fueled the Little Bear Fire. This year, as the monsoons approach and the grass greens up the risk of large devastating fires goes down, and an opportunity presents itself to further reduce the fire risk by using prescribed burns. Under the right conditions, with cooler temperatures and more moisture, fire can be a good thing. Low intensity fires can reduce the fuel load, improves tree health and habitat for wildlife, and restore the ecological role of wildfire. The mountains around Ruidoso are a fire adapted ecosystem, and fire is a natural part of the system. These mountains have burned with surprising regularity since long before the first settlers ever showed up. Now with communities nestled in the woods, it becomes a delicate balance between keeping the forests healthy through encouraging the natural role of fire, and protecting our communities. The truth is we cannot have one without the other. That fact underscores the paradox of fire. Every fire we put out leaves more fuel on the ground for the next fire. The question is not “if” a fire will occur but “when”. It is up to us to take actions ahead of time to reduce the hazard.

As part of a pre-emptive plan, this monsoon season, after the grass greens up, you might see some smoke in the air coming from one of several planned prescribed burns being conducted by federal agencies and their partners. This will be the second season that local municipal fire departments, volunteer departments, and contract suppression services will participate in prescribed burns on public lands alongside their federal counterparts. This collaboration is part of a three year USFS Collaborative Forest Restoration Program project sponsored by the South Central Mountain RC&D. Additional resources allow for larger treatments, and these burns provide excellent training opportunities for our local firefighters who are constantly trying to improve their skills and qualifications. Firefighters put themselves at risk when the community is in need, and we can all agree that better trained firefighters are in everyone’s best interest.

Smoke coming from prescribed burns this year may be inconvenient, but a little smoke now is a small price to pay for protecting our communities. These prescribed burns are not wildfires, they are allowed to occur under a strict set of conditions as dictated by an approved burn plan. The plan takes into account temperature, wind, and humidity, and atmospheric conditions to quickly transport the smoke out of town. Safety is of the upmost concern while conducting prescribed burns and firefighters can cease ignitions if conditions change. We all share the responsibility to keep our community safe, whether that is making our homes more Firewise, or keeping informed on local initiatives like this one. If you support your local fire department, encourage them to participate in these burns. If you have any questions or concerns please contact Rick Merrick, the Rural Community Forester with South Central Mountain RC&D at 575-937-1789.

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