Bitterroot National Forest prescribed fire

Collin Lund of the Bitterroot Hotshots uses his drip torch to ignite a pile of downfall during a recent prescribed burn in the forested lands above the East Fork of the Bitterroot.

Perry Backus/Ravalli Republic

Weather permitting, the southern end of the Bitterroot National Forest is planning to implement fall prescribed burning projects as early as this week.

The majority of the planned burns consist of reducing residual slash piles left over from thinning and timber harvest operations. Fire crews also will conduct several prescribed burns to reduce forest fuels and restore characteristics of a fire-adapted ecosystem.

Altogether, fire managers on the West Fork and Darby/Sula Ranger Districts plan to burn approximately 2,000 acres this fall. Smoke from the burns will likely be visible from the West Fork Highway and east of Sula.

However, the smoke will be quite limited with the burns done in small, isolated areas, according to Tod McKay, public information officer with the Bitterroot National Forest.

“These are very small, very isolated burns that will take place over a short period of time,” McKay said, adding that no one wants to return to the smoky skies that were so prevalent this summer. “We’ll only do it when conditions are right.”

They’ll work with air quality experts at the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to ensure that the smoke from the projects is readily dispersed.

The burns will be ignited only if operational safety, fuel moisture, weather conditions, and air quality parameters can be attained. Fire crews will monitor all burns after ignition to ensure that they stay within prescribed boundaries. All areas will be signed and notifications will be made to local residents.

Treatment areas in the Darby/Sula Ranger District include:

• Tepee Face Ecoburn (prescribed burn)

• Swift Creek Units, east of Echo Gulch and in Swift Creek (pile burning)

• Guide TSI Units – north of Guide Saddle (pile burning)

Treatment areas in the West Fork Ranger District include:

• Lower West Fork Units north of Lavene and south of Baker Lake Road

(prescribed burn)

• Upper Nez Units near Watchtower and Flat Creeks (pile burning)

• School Point Ecoburn, east of Nelson Creek and east of Halford Creek

(prescribed burn)

• Lower West Fork Units near Troy and Pierce Creeks (pile burning)

• Piquett and One Creek (pile burning)

Low-intensity prescribed fires are meant to improve wildlife habitat; reduce the potential of large, high intensity wildfires by reducing the amount of downed fuel to burn; and reduce slash piles created by thinning operations and personal use firewood cutting.

Fall prescribed fire activities normally take place between September and November and burning is highly weather dependent. A mosaic pattern of burned and unburned areas will remain after treatments.

For public safety, recreationists are asked to be aware of fire crews and vehicles in these areas. The public also is asked to avoid traveling in prescribed burn units as well as trails and roads directly adjacent to the units. Please take caution as roads and trails used as control lines for the burn could be temporarily impacted by low intensity fire and smoke.

Fire managers hope to conduct the burning quickly, with limited impacts to recreational users and the general public. For more information or to be placed on a day-of-burning notification list, please contact your local ranger station.