Prescribed burns: Why do we light fires to control them?

Forest Service officials stress key role they play

The importance of prescribed burns

BEND, Ore. - In Central Oregon, wildfire is part of our ecosystem. It plays a crucial role in how the landscape develops and changes.

That's one of many reasons why the Deschutes National Forest uses prescribed burns.

"The health of the forest actually depends on fire," Jaimie Olle, public information officer for the forest, explained Friday. 

"So if we're able to go in there and reintroduce that in a way it would naturally occur, as it has historically, we can kind of get those fuels out, but also let that regrowth come in at a slower pace," Olle said.

"Those fuels" are the brush and grasses that cover the High Desert and feed wildfires, posing a danger to local communities.  

"If the wildfire is coming and it does hit a prescribed burn, we are able to catch it," she said. "It will drop down from those crowns. It will become a ground fire, where we are able to put troops in there and be able to contain it and get a better handle of it and hopefully stop it from spreading to a larger size." 

That offers protection to homes and businesses in the area, said Kevin Cahill, assistant engine captain.

"So what we're creating here is a buffer around the neighborhood," he said. "So a fire starting either north, south, east or west, you have that element that it will burn less severely as it reaches this area that was already burned."

Often, the property slated for a burn will be mowed first, to reduce flame length, but then has to be burned in order to get rid of the wildfire fuel on the forest floor. 

The less wildfire fuel there is, the less likely it is that a wildfire will spread.

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