Planned burn's towering smoke plume draws Bend eyes

234-acres were being set ablaze near Phil's Trailhead

BEND, Ore. - It was a sight bound to arouse concern, even fear among some, despite the advance warning -- a towering smoke column visible from across Bend. But it was a 234-acre prescribed burn ignited Saturday near Phil's Trailhead west of Bend.

The ignitions began around 10 a.m. and were done during the noon hour, officials said, though the smoke was visible for some time after that.

"Fuels specialists light prescribed fires by laying down fire in strips, which keeps flame lengths and intensity low," Central Oregon Fire Management tweeted from the @CentralORFire Twitter account.

When asked why the burn was done on a Saturday when so many would take to the woods for recreation, officials said, "We needed winds out of the north and east" to blow the smoke away from populated areas, adding, "today was the only day in the long-term forecast for favorable conditions."

Tune into NewsChannel 21 at 6, 10 and 11 for Femi Abebefe's report from the lines of the prescribed burn in the West Bend Project area near Phil's Trailhead off Skyliners Road.

Here's the earlier notice information from C.O. Fire Management Service:

About one mile of the Marvin's Garden Trail will be closed from Phil's Trailhead to the KGB junction (Junction 48) for up to a week while fuels specialists monitor the area.

In addition to the Marvin's Garden Trail, closures in the vicinity of the project will include Forest Roads 4604, 4604-010, and the 4604-031. These closures will be in place beginning Saturday and will continue until the roads are deemed safe for public access.

Other trails in the Phil's Trailhead area will remain open, though visitors are advised to be cautious of increased traffic and smoke in the area from prescribed burn operations.

Burning will occur approximately ¼ mile south from the trailhead parking area. Operations could be completed in one day but will likely continue into Sunday.

Fire managers elected to implement the burn this weekend because this is the only upcoming opportunity forecast with winds that will transport smoke away from Bend and surrounding communities. However, smoke will be highly visible from Bend and surrounding areas.

Hazards, including fire weakened trees and areas of hot ash, may exist in the burn area for 1-2 weeks or more after burn implementation. 

It is advised that recreationists remain on trails and roads, and that dogs remain on leash when traveling in and around the burn area.

If smoke drifts onto roads, motorists should slow down, turn on headlights, and proceed with care, officials said.

The smoke will dissipate after ignitions have been completed, but smoke could be visible in the burn area for several days. Fuels specialists will be monitoring the burn area until all hot spots are extinguished.

Fuels specialists will follow policies outlined in the Oregon Department of Forestry smoke management plan, which governs controlled burns, and attempts to minimize impacts to visibility and public health.

The West Bend Vegetation Project is being implemented through a partnership with the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project, an organization bringing a diverse group of stakeholders together with the Forest Service to design and plan treatments for highly valued and historically controversial areas.

The DCFP was created through the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration  Program in 2010 which awarded the Deschutes National Forest with a 10-year, $10.1 million grant to restore 145,000 acres of forest in Central Oregon.

Last summer, the restoration area was approved for an expansion, bringing the total to approximately 257,000 acres stretching from Black Butte and Bend to Sunriver and Mt. Bachelor.

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