The Klamath National Forest has resumed its prescribed burning program after a 90-day national pause. The pause, in the wake of devastating escaped prescribed burns in the Southwest, was enacted by Forest Service Chief Randy Moore on May 12 of this year and was lifted September 8 after a thorough national program review. Prior to burning, all National Forests were required to implement a series of recommendations to ensure the safety and success of prescribed burns. The Klamath National Forest was the first forest in California to have successfully met these recommendations and has begun prescribed burning with the arrival of the cooler and moister conditions which are conducive to prescribed burn operations.
The Klamath National Forest evolved with and depends on frequent mixed-severity fire to maintain forest health. This critical component of the ecosystem was removed over more than a century of fire suppression, resulting in an unnatural accumulation of fuels in the forest. Prescribed fire allows fire managers to return fire to the landscape when conditions are favorable.
“Prescribed burning is one of the most effective tools in our toolbox when it comes to fuels reduction,” said Klamath National Forest Supervisor Rachel Smith. “Applying the right kind of fire at the right time in the right place can significantly decrease fire behavior and effects when wildfires happen in treated areas. The need for prescribed burning on the landscape is more urgent now than ever to protect vulnerable communities and restore forest health in the North State.”
Prescribed fire managers use different methods to reintroduce fire into forests including pile, broadcast, and understory burning. Each of the three ranger districts on the Klamath National Forest are prepared to implement various prescribed burn projects this fall and winter as conditions allow.
Scott-Salmon River Ranger District:
The Scott Bar Mountain Project is located 11 miles northwest of Fort Jones, on Scott Bar Mountain. Fire crews will be targeting 750 acres of underburning with the intent of reducing fuel loading in the wildland-urban interface (WUI), reintroducing fire to the landscape, and improving wildlife habitat. The area will need a period of drying to come into prescription after recent precipitation. This is part of an ongoing project that will ultimately result in a landscape-level reduction of fuels in the area.
Scattered pile burning will take place across the district as conditions allow, with 285 acres on the Salmon River side and 150 acres on the Scott River side. Many of these piles are along firelines from the 2021 River Complex.
Happy Camp-Oak Knoll Ranger District:
Fire crews from Oak Knoll will be targeting approximately 1,300 acres of pile burning throughout the fall and winter, as conditions allow. 265 acres are within the Craggy Project north of Yreka and 400 acres are targeted in Humbug Creek west of Yreka. Smoke from these projects may be visible from Yreka and the Interstate 5 corridor. An additional 600 acres of pile burning is planned in the Horse Creek area.
Further to the west, Happy Camp fire crews will be focusing efforts on nearly 1,100 acres of hand and machine pile burning. 246 acres of pile burning will occur within the Two Chiefs-funded Lake Mountain Ridge Fuels Management Zone Project, south and west of Lake Mountain Lookout. Two areas of roadside piles are planned: 287 acres along Forest System Road 46N65 northeast of Lake Mountain, and 266 acres along Grider Ridge on the 47N77 road. Additional pile burning is slated along the Caroline Creek drainage near Seiad for 259 acres. As conditions allow, additional pile burning may occur on units between the community of Happy Camp and Huckleberry Mountain and between Seiad and Lake Mountain.
Goosenest Ranger District:
The First Creek underburn project will be targeting 225 acres north of Grass Lake. The burn is in mixed conifer forest and aims to improve stand resiliency, improve wildlife habitat, and ties into previously implemented fuels reduction projects, creating a landscape level feature that will help firefighters in the event of future wildfires.
Fire crews will continue underburn operations at the Erickson Project, which is in ponderosa pine and juniper, about four miles east of Grass Lake. Fire personnel have been working towards completion of this 1,180-acre project for the last few years and 289 acres remain left to underburn. Goals for this burn include increasing stand resilience to the effects of insects, disease, and wildfire, and improving habitat for big game.
The Van Bremmer underburn has also been an ongoing project and is located about three miles east/northeast of Tennant, in ponderosa pine and mixed conifer stands. Fire personnel will be looking to burn up to 590 acres of this 1,471-acre project to reduce hazardous fuels to decrease fire behavior during future wildfire events, improve forage for big game, and to improve stand resilience insects and disease.
Recent projects on the Goosenest have yielded over 5300 acres of piles for burning. Piles are spread throughout the district and will likely take multiple years to complete. Crews will be focusing much of their efforts this burn season on the nearly 2000 acres of piles that are within the Harlan project area. The piles are located between Cedar Mountain and Mount Hebron and were built in partnership with the California Deer Association. An additional priority for crews is 100 acres of piles within the Black Rock Aspen Restoration Project in the area of Butte Mountain.
Each prescribed burn operation follows a specialized burn plan, wherein temperature, humidity, wind, vegetation moisture, and smoke dispersal conditions are considered on a daily basis before a prescribed fire is implemented. All this information is used to decide if and when to burn.
Smoke from prescribed fire operations is normal and may continue for several days after an ignition depending on the project size, conditions, and weather. Prescribed fire smoke is generally less intense and of much shorter duration than smoke produced by unwanted wildfires, as fire managers consider optimal conditions for dispersal and duration of smoke impacts when considering prescribed burns.