USA — Fire may be one of the most destructive forces in a forest, but it can also bring and protect life.
Fires such as the Old Fire, which burned nearly 100,000 acres in 2003, have negative consequences on animals, plants and people. However, when fire is controlled it can be turned into a tool. The U.S. Forest Service is using fire in such a way this winter. The Forest Service has been working on prescribed burns throughout the San Bernardino National Forest, most recently burning an area along Forest Road 2N10, south of Big Bear Lake. The burn took place Feb. 6 and was planned for Feb. 7 but was halted due to a law enforcement investigation and manhunt in the area of the prescribed burn.
The burns allow us to clear the smaller diameter trees and surrounding brush to allow for growth of larger trees, said U.S. Forest Service Captain 1 Bravo Seth Mitchell. It also allows us to create a 150 to 300 foot buffer around communities in case there is a forest fire during the summer. The buffers give us a safety net against larger fires.
The work for the burns begins in the spring and summer when the same fire crews cut down smaller trees and pile the trees, pine needles and brush. The crews return in the winter to take advantage of the snow and colder weather, which limit the possibility of the controlled burns getting out of control.
Kevin Chargois, assistant engine man on U.S. Forest Service Engine 16 and a lifetime Big Bear resident, said that even in the winter the burns are dependant on favorable conditions on site including wind, relative humidity, temperature and other factors.
We follow a prescription for the burns, Chargois said. We plan ahead to optimize our time and avoid impacting people and wildlife. Currently, we have winds that are blowing the smoke away from the resort and houses which is a major concern here. Theres also a cold front coming in this weekend that will help mop up things and lower the fire danger.
In addition to shielding people from fire danger, the prescribed burns are an important part of improving the health of the forest. The burns clear overgrown portions of the forest allowing new generations of plants to regrow.
The burns allow the forest to harbor a more natural ecosystem, Chargois said. If you look at the area near Barton
Flats you can see what we are working towards. A more open feel. Thats an area we have done a lot of work on the last five to 10 years. Were trying to replicate Northern Montana type forests where fires happen naturally and there isnt a lot of human interaction.
Fires also encourage certain tree species to reproduce. John Miller, public information officer for the U.S. Forest Service, said Ponderosa Pine and Lodgepole Pine have adapted to fires. The cones from the trees can remain closed and viable due to resin, which burns off in fires.