New statewide council focuses on prescribed fires

By Dylan J. Darling The Bulletin

Prescribed burn planned today

A prescribed burn is planned to begin today in the West Bend Project area near Phil’s Trailhead off Skyliners Road.

The burn is scheduled for 234 acres starting one-quarter mile south of the trailhead parking area. It is likely to continue into Sunday and recreationists are advised to stay away from the burn area, including area closures, until they are deemed safe for public access.

Closures include:

• 1 mile south of Marvin’s Garden Trail from Phil’s Trailhead to the KGB junction (Junction 48)

• Forest Roads 4604, 4604-010 and 4604-031

A fledgling statewide council intends to make it easier for land management agencies and private landowners to have prescribed fires.

The Oregon Prescribed Fire Council held its inaugural meeting Thursday at Central Oregon Community College. The council probably will have members from state and federal agencies, as well as tribes, conservation groups and other organizations, said Amanda Stamper, the initial chairwoman for the group.

“A lot of this is about trying treatments together — across boundaries,” said Stamper, who is also a fuels technician for the Sisters Ranger District of the Deschutes National Forest. She said the idea of the council here started with her and Trevor Miller, who also worked in fire management in the Sisters District.

There are similar councils in California and Washington, and in the southeastern states of the country, but there hasn’t been one for Oregon before, Stamper said.

The meeting came as part of the “Week of Fire,” the Central Oregon Fire Science Symposium at COCC.

Also called controlled burns, prescribed fires are lit by firefighters when weather conditions are right to thin out vegetation, brush and smaller trees so that should a fire break out, it has less fuel to burn. Spring is a common time for prescribed fires in Central Oregon, as evidenced by the smoke column from such a fire Thursday southeast of Bend.

The new council could benefit both students and professionals focused on wildfire, said John Bailey, an associate professor for Oregon State University. Through it they will be “keeping up on the latest and greatest in prescribed fire and technology,” he said.

Connections between agencies and other groups made by the council also will allow the sharing of training opportunities, as well as firefighters and equipment, Stamper said. There is also the chance to have prescribed fires that cover land managed by a variety of agencies, as well as public and private land.

Everyone could do their own fires independently, “but the costs are higher and the benefits are less,” she said.

The council could also “empower” private landowners who want to do prescribed burns on their own land, said Morgan Varner, assistant professor at Mississippi State University. Varner was among the speakers at the fire symposium.

“They own the land that we are so worried about,” Varner said, noting that homes close to or surrounded by forests are typically on private ground.

An offshoot of the council is the Southern Oregon Prescribed Fire Network, the working title for a fairly new group in Southwest Oregon. The goals of the Oregon council and the network are the same, to make it easier for prescribed fires to occur, particularly on private ground, said Rich Fairbanks, network chairman.

“We have a lot of private landowners who want to burn,” Fairbanks said.

The network is trying to set up ways for those landowners to have access to contract fire crews and other resources.

Looking out Thursday from the COCC cafeteria windows to the pine forest abutting Bend, Fairbanks said people here have a chance to used prescribed fires to improve forest health and the new the council could help them do it. Such efforts would make for safer communities, with less worry about wildfire destroying homes near forests.

“So people don’t have to be terrified every time the lightning strikes,” Fairbanks said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812, ddarling@bendbulletin.com

Rob Kerr / The Bulletin Redmond Hotshot wildland firefighter Michael Dake, 28, of Bend steps away from flames as they burn through manzanita bushes during the Sun Forest #3 125-acre prescribed burn on the Cresent Ranger District southeast of La Pine, in May 2011.
Rob Kerr / The Bulletin Type I Burn Boss Rod Bonacker moves along the edge of a prescribed burn south of Bend in April 2013.
Rob Kerr / The Bulletin Fire managers meet as an area of a 300-acre prescribed burn, titled the Fuzzy Burn totaling 598 acres, cools off near China Hat Road south of Bend Thursday. The prescribed burn is one of several happening in good conditions this week.