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Fires in the Northern Rockies
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Fires in the Northern Rockies

September 26, 2005
The tiny red dots in this image mark the locations of active fires in the Idaho wilderness. In the remote, rugged wildlands of the state, many fires are allowed to burn as part of the natural resource management strategy, which recognizes the important role that fire plays in the ecosystems of Western forests. Often these fires are caused by lightening strikes and travel quickly through the understory of the forest, clearing away shrubs and saplings, leaving mature trees intact. Sometimes, however, the "fuel load" or the amount of combustible, organic materials - like fallen trees, leaves, and so forth - is so large that the fire burns hotter and reaches into the crowns of the trees. This condition is more likely when the interval between fires is long; more frequent fires keep the fuel load lower and the fires that do occur are less destructive. To remedy this potential hazard, forest managers will sometimes "prescribe" a fire, that is, start a fire intentionally under carefully monitored conditions, in order to reduce the fuel load and therefore reduce the risk of a more deadly fire.


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