June 26, 2008
Crews (Purposely) Set Mountainside Ablaze
By Lynn Wilde II Deseret News
Several people set a plan into motion this week that took four months, many different agencies and $12,000 to create, by starting a mountainside on fire -- on purpose.
The fire, set Tuesday at Timpie Point in Tooele County, was a proactive measure to reduce wildfires in the area. Ambur Mathews, public information officer for the Salt Lake City office of the Bureau of Land Management, said by burning grass now, more money may be saved later. If a fire starts in a burned area, it would have little fuel to grow.
Officials hope the prescribed burns will help reduce fire concerns a year after dozens of wildfires charred an estimated 620,375 acres around the state. The Milford Flat fire in central Utah was the largest of 2007, burning 363,000 acres and killing four people in July.
Last year in Tooele County, there were four human-caused wildfires. Two of the fires cost approximately $93,000, and the other two have undetermined costs.
Teresa Rigby, acting duty officer for the BLM's Salt Lake office, said a prescribed burn helps slow the spread of fires down the road, adding it's "not so much for the ecology benefit."
Tuesday's fire crew was divided into two units -- the ignitors and the holders. The ignitors set the fire using fusees, similar to road flares; drip torches, canisters of diesel fuel that have a small flame on the spout; and flare guns. They started at opposite ends of the upper Bonneville shoreline with a goal to meet in the middle.
The ignitors lit sections of the hill, moved a safe distance, then lit more until the two groups met. Areas unreachable to the crews were ignited by flare guns. They then moved to the second shoreline, burned the grass, then moved to the slope, hoping to meet their goal of having 60 percent to 90 percent of the vegetation consumed in 75 percent of the 231 acres.
The holder's job was to keep the fire within the assigned boundaries. Ground crews, as well as fire engine operators, kept vigil to ensure the fire was contained.
"If something jumps the line, pound it with as much water as you can," said Brooke Chadwick, burn boss, to the various engine operators at the scene.
Chadwick warned the crew to look out for live rounds of ammunition and hazardous materials, such as computer screens, and try not to burn them.
Wildlife also needed to be protected. A red-tailed hawk had a nest on the mountain. Robin Naeve, wildlife biologist for the BLM, wanted to ensure the firefighters didn't burn the nest.
"Keep disturbances as low as possible," she said. She said the birds are juveniles and does not know if they are mobile and therefore able to escape the inferno.
The crew met its objective of creating a fuel break and reducing the possibility of future fires, Rigby said, though they didn't burn as much as they wanted.
"The grass was too green," Mathews said.
No injuries were reported.
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