Custer, SD-Crews in the Black Hills National Forest burning piles and preparing to burn larger areas are well aware of the risks associated with prescribedburning.
Highly detailed burning plans are prepared for each prescribed fire including fire behavior calculations and holding actions in case of escape.
While escaped prescribed fires are rare, they happen. The last escaped fire in the Black Hills National Forest was the Puma Fire on the Bearlodge District which burned about 100 acres outside of control lines. No structures were lost and there were no injuries.
Officials use fire to restore healthy conditions and to protect communities. Many forest types, and especially ponderosa pine, need fire to thrive and grow. Without fire, ponderosa pine grows into thickets of dense trees that are eventually either burn down or die in insect attacks.
Prescribed fires allow firefighters to create natural fire conditions that make large stand replacing wildfires much more unlikely during the normal summer fire season.
Research by Foxx and others has shown that intentional burning in ponderosa pine greatly increases the longevity and fire-worthiness of thetrees, and keeps the living forest safe even in severe burning conditions.
Recent snow fall in the northern Black Hills and the Bearlodge Mountains have moderated burning conditions this winter. Crews are currently burning piles of slash. But the story in the southern Black Hills is very different.
We are setting all time highs for energy release components, some now above the 97th percentile, said Todd Pechota, assistant forest fire management officer for the Black Hills National Forest headquarters in Custer. The energy release component is a factor derived from two measurements; moisture content of large diameter fuels and wind.
Pechota said as soon as the forest gets adequate moisture he and other firefighters will be ready to burn larger areas in the central and southern Hills. We have to burn if were going to have healthy forests and safe communities, Pechota said. This forest will burn one way or another. We prefer to burn it on out terms to keep it alive, he said.
Forest service personnel have burned 5,500 acres using prescribed fire since October 1, 2005 and hope to burn over 8,000 acres by the end of September.