June 17, 2016 (FAIRBANKS, Alaska) – The Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service (BLM AFS) in cooperation with local, state, federal and military partners implemented several successful prescribed fire projects this spring to reduce the risk of wildland fires on military training areas. There were 16 military ranges in the Yukon Training Area and Donnelly Training Area burned between March 13 and June 13 for a total of 62,309 acres treated.
Because the targeted areas in the plan were snow free sooner than normal this year, the BLM AFS started the project a month earlier. Burning off the dead grasses while the ground is still frozen and while moisture still remains in the timber is the optimum because these controlled burns won’t spread into the nearby wooded areas.
Using prescribed fire to reduce the risk of wildland fires that could impact nearby communities including military installations and training facilities helps safeguard our citizens and our firefighters. Implementing a prescribed fire during favorable conditions is much safer and more effective than attempting to control an unplanned ignition under dry or windy conditions. Removing the grass now will reduce fire danger around training targets used during the summer and create barriers that could contain an incidental fire. It would be difficult to contain a fire that moves into black spruce during extreme fire conditions. Prescribed burning also promotes the growth of succulent green forage that is resistant to fire, but is favored by small and large species of wildlife and benefits their habitat. The prescribed fires increase training opportunities in support of military readiness
Prescribed fires are conducted when precise weather conditions and site prescriptions are met. The approved prescribed fire plan includes a burn permit approved by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Diligent coordination with the DEC and the National Weather Service is ongoing during the prescribed fire period. The BLM AFS works with the DEC to monitor smoke conditions and air quality during the planning phase and also during the actual burn to ensure it is in compliance with local, state, and federal policies and regulations governing air quality. The BLM AFS made every effort to minimize smoke impacts to the surrounding communities, but there may have been noticeable smoke in the project areas for several days after ignition. The duration of each project depends on weather, fuels, and resources available. All prescribed fire projects are compliant with National Environmental Policy Act for the areas that are being treated.
The U.S. Army Garrison Environmental Department, U.S. Army Alaska, USARAK Range Control, and BLM AFS will continue to work together on future mechanical and prescribed fire projects, beginning September 2016, to reduce and mitigate black spruce near active ranges that pose a wildfire threat on military training lands.