Aerial ignitions used to make progress on managed wildfire

Aerial ignitions used to make progress on managed wildfire

31 May 2017

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USA – A lightning-caused wildfire that Forest Service crews are allowing to burn across an area near Clints Well in far southeastern Coconino County is expected to grow from a current size of 8,200 acres to about 12,000 acres before it will be contained, said Kaitlyn Webb, the public information officer on the Snake Ridge Fire.

Along with natural growth, fire managers are nudging along the fire’s progression with aerial ignition tactics that use helicopters to launch what look like combustible ping pong balls onto the burn area.

The agency is managing the fire, which has burned at low to moderate severity, to benefit the forest in ways that include reducing the buildup of trees and other fuels and replenishing nutrients in the soil, Webb said. Crews expect the fire will have “run its course” by early next week, she said.

The fire was reported on May 19 about nine miles northwest of Clints Well and is now 15 percent contained. So far, it has cost the Forest Service $450,000, which breaks down to about $56 an acre — below the $70 per acre that Coconino National Forest officials said was the average for managed fires two years ago.

On Tuesday, fire crews had help from a Helitack crew down from Grand Canyon that completed aerial ignitions by flying over a predetermined area of the fire and releasing golf ball-sized spheres with ignitable material inside of them, Webb said. The spheres are punctured before they are shot out of the helicopter. Once they hit the ground, they burn in a small circle outward, eventually merging into each other, she said.

The aerial tactic is good for steep or rough terrain that is difficult for on-the-ground crews to access and also quickly covers a lot of ground, which speeds up the fire’s progression and shortens the duration of smoke impacts, she said.

The fire is burning about 12 miles from the edge of the Tonto National Forest, which has implemented Stage 1 fire restrictions. But that proximity hasn’t specifically impacted how the Snake Ridge Fire is being managed, though fire managers constantly evaluate current fuel and fire conditions, Webb said.

“Down there they have different fuel moistures and the vegetation is at a different level when it comes to how dry they are,” she said.

While there are about 100 personnel assigned to the Snake Ridge Fire, Webb said there are “a lot” of other firefighting resources available, in case another wildfire pops up in the area.

Over Memorial Day weekend, the Forest Service increased the number of patrols in the area of the fire who monitored smoke and made sure the public knew what was happening with the blaze. Smoke from the fire was visible to many recreationists in the forests south of Flagstaff over the weekend and continues to affect the Camp Verde, Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon areas.

A closure order is still in effect around the fire. It begins at Forest Road (FR) 81 and junction of Forest Highway (FH) 3. The boundary extends west on FR 81 to FR 81E, then on FR 81E the closure area travels south to FR 679 and proceeds west to FR 81A. Forest Road 81 A is followed north to FR 214 and then north and east to FR 83. The boundary then proceeds east along FR 229 to FH 3. The boundary of the closure area follows Forest FH 3 south back to FR 81.

If crews need to immediately suppress the fire, Webb said the incident team has already identified features like roads and previously burned areas that could be used to help contain the fire and made sure it has a variety of firefighting resources ready to be deployed.

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